| |
Posted on

Table of Contents

A sundry collection of intellectual property, some less intellectual than other

Something I firmly believe is that it's important to make jokes in any medium. Here at NebCorp Heavy Industries & Sundries, despite occasional dabbling with the physical, we work primarily with software, and software is one of our primary corporate humor channels. Below is just some of our work there, from least to most useless.

katabastird, a graphical countdown timer

katabastird is, in its own words, "a simple countdown timer that is configured and launched from the commandline." It looks like this when it's running:

katabastird running normally

It was created for a couple reasons:

Obviously the best way to showcase a commandline-parsing library is to incorporate it into a graphical program. Other commandline-mission-critical features included changing the color of the background to get more and more red as less time remained

katabastird almost done counting down

and using the font used by the alien in Predator

get to the choppah

But by far its greatest feature is an undocumented option, -A, that will play an airhorn salvo when it's done. This option is visible in the program's help text, but it's not described.

Truly honestly, this is not a great program. Once it's launched, it only understands two keyboard inputs, ESC and q, both of which simply cause it to exit. Using the mouse, you can pause, restart, and reset. And that's it, that's all the interaction you get.

In spite of this, I find myself using it all the time. It's easy to launch with different times (the commandline parsing understands things like -h for hours, -m for minutes, etc.), and its last invocation is just an up-arrow in my terminal away. The airhorn cracks me up every time.

At some point, I plan on changing it to something that uses the GPU to run a fire simulation on the numbers, and have the flame intensity get higher as the time remaining gets lower. I'll save that for when I want to get slightly more serious about graphics and shaders, though; it would basically be a total re-write.

As for the name, it's just a perversion of "katabasis", which means, "descent to the Underworld". I guess a bastardized "bastard" is in there, too. Listen, I'm gonna level with you: I'm not wild about the name, but what's done is done.

randical, a commandline program for generating random values

Some time ago, I was trying to work out some ways to pick random points in a sphere, and during that exploration, I found myself wanting to just be able to generate random values outside of any program in particular. So, I wrapped a primitive interface around the random value generation library I was using. I wound up using it selfishly and in a limited fashion for that project, but afterward, decided to expand it a bit and release it, as my first real Rust crate.

I'll reproduce the help text here, since it's fairly comprehensive:

$ randical -h
Radical Random Value Generator 1.618033

Generates arbitrary numbers of uniformly distributed random values.

    randical [FLAGS] [OPTIONS]

        --buel       Prints either 'Here.' or 'Um, he's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend
                     heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31
                     Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.', with equal probability. Not compatible with `-t`
                     or `--bule`.
        --bule       Prints either 'true' or 'false', with equal probability. Not compatible with `-t` or `--buel`.
    -e, --exit       With equal probability, exit with either status 0, like /bin/true, or status 1, like /bin/false.
                     Technically compatible with all other options, but exit status will have no relation to any
                     generated output. Sets default number of values to print to 0.
    -h, --help       Prints help information
    -V, --version    Prints version information

    -n, --num-vals <NUM_VALS>    Number of random values to print out. Defaults to 1.
    -t, --type <TYPE>            Type of random value to print. Defaults to 'bool'.
                                 Possible values are 'b'ool, 'f'loat64, 'U'UIDv4, 'u'nsigned64, 's'igned64, and 'k'suid
                                 with millisecond precision.

The README contains some examples of using it to do various things, like simulate a fair coin toss, or an unfair coin toss, or "a Sliding Doors-style garden of forking paths alternate timeline for Ferris Bueller's presence or absence on that fateful day."

I have one actual non-shithead usecase for this program: in my .emacs file, I use it to generate ksuids. But I don't really use it.

I include it mostly because, by most measurable metrics, this is my most popular program with end users that I can specifically identify:

randical's popularity is baffling

Who is downloading my software, and why? I don't know, and more importantly, I don't care or need to know. It's truly better for everyone that way.

freedom-dates, a library neither wanted nor needed

When I started writing this post, "freedom-dates" existed strictly as a shit-head idea of mine about the dumbest possible way to represent dates as a string. In fact, I had had it about a month before, while chatting with some friends on Discord.

the birth of the birth of freedom

actually i did ask if i should

As usual, I thought tossing a small crate together to realize this joke would take, at most, one hour, and be maybe ten lines long. At least this time, it only took five or six times as long as I thought it would. In its own words, freedom-dates

provides a convenient suite of affordances for working with dates in freedom format. That is, it takes representations of dates in Communinst formats like "2023-02-08", and liberates them into a Freedom format like "2/8/23".

For something like this, where I would not want to actually be accused of punching down or being a jingoistic moron, it's important to be as multidimensionally absurd as possible; I really needed to commit to the bit and provide maximum, richly-textured incongruity.

Luckily, using the Rust language helps with that in a lot of ways. After I published it to the official package repository, the official documentation site built and published the autogenerated documentation for it. This leads to the creation of content that looks like this:

this is history

The slick-looking defaults and basically frictionless process for participating in the Rust ecosystem make it easy for culture-jamming like this. All I had to do was diligently comment, test, and document my code1, and the larger systems took care of the rest.

Rust also provides a lot of different fancy programming tools, like Traits, that allow you to dress up deeply unserious content in deeply serious costume.

In all real seriousness, though, I hope that seeing how easy it is to get something this silly published in the official channels inspires you to overcome any trepidation about doing that yourself, if you have something you want to share!

bad_print, a silly program

A few years ago, someone at the Recurse Center2 started a chat thread titled "bad print", and opened it with,

you probably didn't know that you needed a bad print function, one that spawns a thread for each character in your string and prints the single character before quitting... well, now that you know that you needed this, i've written one for you

and then pasted a 3-line program in Haskell, and asked for other implementations of "bad print", in any language. I whipped one up using Rayon, a library for doing some things in parallel really easily, but eventually settled on the following, which uses a much smaller and more focused external library called threadpool:

use std::io::Write;
use std::{env, io};

use threadpool::ThreadPool;

fn main() {
    let args: Vec<String> = env::args().collect();
    if args.len() < 2 {
        panic!("Please supply a phrase to be badly printed.")
    let string = args[1..].join(" ");
    let num_threads = string.len();

    let pool = ThreadPool::new(num_threads);
    for c in string.chars() {
        pool.execute(move || {
            print!("{}", c);
            let _ = io::stdout().flush();

I noted about it, relative to earlier versions,

It appears to output strings with an even larger edit distance from the arguments given to it, presumably due to the chaos inherent to harnessing the power of one full tpc (thread per char).

Indeed, witness it for yourself:

$ bad_print Behold the awesome power of one full Thread Per Character.
Bwoesmd elpoh or  onh eu Thread earPCh ceearfofelwtter la.

By far the most impressive was a bash script that did Matrix-style cascading text in your terminal, called, appropriately enough, bad_matrix; that particular one was by someone who's a bit of a shell wizard.

Other peformance arts

An artist's medium is all of reality and all of time, so every piece of the work is eligible for expression; the frame is also part of the work. Software in my culture is still embedded in a context that is a bit stuffy, a bit up its ass about things like "copyright" and "semantic versioning"3, and so they're things I enjoy playing with, too.

At the bottom of the readme for freedom-dates, I have the following about the version:

Freedom STARTS at number 1, baby! And every release is ten times the last, so second release is 10, then 100, etc. FREEDOM!

and indeed it is at version 1.0.0; the two .0s after the 1 are there to satisfy Cargo's requirements about semver3.


When I version software for public consumption, I tend to use a scheme I call "goldver", short for "Golden Versioning". It works like this:

When projects are versioned with goldver, the first version is "1". Note that it is not "1.0", or, "1.0-prealpha-release-preview", or anything nonsensical like that. As new versions are released, decimals from phi, the Golden Ratio, are appended after an initial decimal point. So the second released version will be "1.6", the third would be "1.61", etc., and on until perfection is asymptotically approached as the number of released versions goes to infinity.

In order to be compliant with the semver version structure, the following rule is applied to projects published to the official Rust package repository:

Once there have been at least three releases, the version string in the Cargo.toml file will always be of the form "1.6.x", where x is at least one digit long, starting with "1". Each subsequent release will append the next digit of phi to x. The number of releases can be calculated by counting the number of digits in x and adding 2 to that.

I sincerely believe that this is better than semver for plenty of non-library software. It was Windows 95 and then Windows 2000; obviously there was a lot of change. I don't care about arguing about the whether or not this is a "patch release" or a "minor release" or a "major change". There are no downstream dependents who need to make sure they don't accidentally upgrade to the latest release. If someone wants to update it, they know what they're getting into, and they do it in an inherently manual way.

chaos license

Anything that I can4, I license under the Chaos License, which states,

This software is released under the terms of the Chaos License. In cases where the terms of the license are unclear, refer to the Fuck Around and Find Out License.

This is about as business-hostile as I can imagine, far worse even than the strong copyleft licenses that terrified the lawyers at ILM when I was there. It oozes uncertainty and risk; you'd have to be deranged to seriously engage with it. But if you're just a person? Dive right in, it doesn't really matter!

That's about all I have for now, my droogs. Go take what you know and do something weird with it; it may amuse you! You might learn something! You might make someone laugh!


I did more test-writing and documenting for that useless joke project than for most other software I ever write.


"semantic versioning" sounds like it could be a good idea: "the versions should be meaningful, and when they change, they should be changed in a way that means something consistent". As usual with these things, it's turned into a prescriptivist cult whose adherents insist that all software be released according to its terms. This is annoying.


This is basically anything I write by me, for me, as opposed to contributing to someone else's project.

:: , , , ,