Wednesday, June 30, 2004

personal update 30 june 04

My health has been significantly better for the last couple of weeks... the various teams of docs seem to be converging on some sort of remedy. Pain is still high, but I think if I can break any link in the chain the other bits will mellow out too, so I have hope, which makes me uncomfortable because there's been so many hopes dashed by what, 50 or 60 doctors in 4 years? Despite claims from both sides that western medicine and 'alternative' medicine have nothing in common, I think western medicine is faith-based healing (most of it isn't even science, per se... it's statistics: we tried this on 100 people and 15 of them got better while only 3 of them died, so let's call this the cure and move on), and I've become something of an apostate.

Anyway... the GI doc has me on anti-cramping meds that work reasonably well (i.e. I can usually walk now). I had two radio-isotope tests done which were in themselves inconclusive but my subjective experience during those tests (one of the drugs they gave me caused a [well, THE, actually] stabbing pain in my side, and it shouldn't have done that, shouldn't have been able to do that) makes my surgeon eager to remove my gallbladder... he says he's removed them from numerous people that had pain (and no indication of gallstones), and overall the operation has been successful. Some people have no change, a few get worse... I'm keeping this operation down towards the bottom of the list, being somewhat leery of injudicious removal of body parts, but the diagnosis jives with an earlier celiac plexus nerve block I had which showed that the pain was definitely coming from one of my organs, so the lines are converging.

The only part that bothers me is that this does nothing specific to address the anomalous pain on the other side... but it's a sort of non-specific pain, and it could be crossed wiring or saturation of pain neurotransmitters or even something psychosomatic my brain cooked up in an attempt to balance out the signal load. Which brings me to my shrink...

This guy thinks (well, he thinks a lot of things, an astoundingly small number of which have any applicability to me) that maybe, just perhaps, it might be possible that I've got a stress->pain->depression->stress etc (rinse and repeat) cycle going on. Of course, I already knew that going in the door, which is why I was there in the first place. For this the guy went to med school? Doc, I want you to take a deep breath and realize that this is me firing you.

I've been less depressed lately, partly the result of determination on my part to fight this, and partly because I've been talking a lot with old friends (and newer ones, too... people that live within a couple of miles of me that I haven't seen in a year because I was in too much pain to get out of bed). There's a lot of healing and a lot of joy in this.

Every couple of days the effort to be physically active and fight the depression lays me out for a day, but overall I'm much better than I was a couple of months ago.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

A moose with a view

Socially conscious UK graffiti artist 'Moose' came up with a brilliant idea: instead of painting on walls and sidewalks, he applies his templates and scrubs the concrete clean, leaving the desired image in high contrast to the surrounding dirty area, until time and dust eventually reclaim the clean bits. His work has attracted a lot of attention, even in the form of lucrative advertising contracts from Microsoft and Smirnoff, among others.

The City Council in Leeds, where Moose is based (and where his 'Smirnoff' work took place), reacted as you might expect any ordinary politicos to: they flipped out and demanded that he 'clean up' the offending work. What the fuck is he supposed to do, rub dirt back onto the wall?

The source of the trouble has been a rather unfathomable message in 3 foot letters for Smirnoff's Lyriquid perfection campaign, condemned by Gerry Harper, a Leeds councillor, as "sheer vandalism". Moose counters that he should not be prosecuted "for cleaning the walls". But Leeds City Council insists his work is illegal because any advertiser needs a permit. The Crown Prosecution Service says he may have been in breach of last year's Anti-Social Behaviour Act.

Moose fucked up by not just sticking to his art... once he started doing advertisements, he was screwed. Legally he and Smirnoff are complicit in defying the permit issue, but there is a certain amount of irony in getting arrested for cleaning a wall, even if he did clean it in such a way that it conveyed information.

The larger issue here revolves around a glitch that the UK shares with the US: the ever-increasing (and increasingly arcane) body of punitive laws to handle social problems that have been proven to be successfully dealt with using more human methods. (The US is the poster child for this, with our 'wars' on Drugs/Terrorism/WelfareMothers/Reason. For example, where some countries provide needle exchange programs and condoms for high-school kids, we feel that this is 'promoting' inappropriate behavior, so we lock up the junkies, let everyone get AIDS, and reduce social welfare programs for unwed teen mothers. Brilliant.)

In Halifax, Canada, numerous businesses have donated walls to the community for the express purpose of giving graffiti artists a legitimate forum to practice their art. As a result of this program, graffiti all but disappeared from the rest of the city, while these walls have become an ever-changing outdoor art gallery, a cultural benefit. Somehow I doubt that the US & the UK will see the reason in such an approach any time in the near future.

Anyway, kudos to Moose for his creativity... hopefully they don't hit him too hard for it.

[via slashdot]


This is my friend Julie's daughter Zoe, at John Lennon's 'Strawberry Fields' memorial in Central Park NY.

I posted a couple more of the pics Julie has sent me over the last couple of years over at her place... given recent events I thought something positive was in order (yes, I know how weird that sounds coming from me, shut up), and Julie's kids are absurdly cute, so it seemed best to start there.

hey, kids, come look at the dinosaur

A few years ago Fast Company was hailed as the fresh new voice of a business world being rapidly changed by technology. From their 'About Us' page:

Launched in November 1995 by Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, two former Harvard Business Review editors, Fast Company magazine was founded on a single premise: A global revolution was changing business, and business was changing the world. Discarding the old rules of business, Fast Company set to chronicle how changing companies create and compete, to highlight new business practices, and to showcase the teams and individuals who are inventing the future and reinventing business.

Sounds almost revolutionary.

But take a look at them today... they've still got one of the freshest views on modern business. They've got a website (that's hooked to the wossname... 'internet'... or sumthin) full of information that I'm sure is useful to some soulless suit somewhere. They've also got zero clue, which is a symptom rather than a disease... the actual disease being an infestation of lawyers and managers rotting the company out from the inside. One result of this disease is this lovely policy (bottom of the page) regarding linking to their webpage:

...if you like, you may link to us at no cost. This option requires the execution by you and of a one-page Web-linking agreement. Please download and sign the agreement and fax it to 617-738-5055, attn: G+J legal, As soon as you receive back the agreement signed on behalf of, you may begin linking to our content.

I remember a few years ago, visiting the webpages of companies that hadn't "got it" yet... they'd have their name, their product, and a lovely order form you could print out and mail to them with a money order. Nowadays, I won't even Ebay something if they don't take Paypal... the world got up and moved in the last 20 years, and it still surprises me that some people haven't noticed yet.

I try to give proper attribution to material I find elsewhere... if it's a person's site, or essentially non-commercial, I attribute them, but if it is a business or a media outlet, I figure the link is self-explanatory. The 'web' is called such for a reason: points connect to other points, and you can follow information or entertainment or whatever from site to site, and in most cases (one notable exception being when you're pointing out what *complete* *fucking* *idiots* they are, the other being the Slashdot Effect) you're doing the linked site a favor by directing traffic their way.

There have been a number of attempts to enforce bureaucratic bullshit like this in the past - and most of them failed spectacularly, as they should. The internet is a democratic and enabling technology... and simply linking to a site doesn't infringe on anyone's copyright the way, for instance, copying a page of their site over to your own and not mentioning where you got it would. Fair usage laws dictate that some small snippet can be used, as long as it is attributed to the copyright holder. A link is so far beneath that, in legal terms, that it is essentially a non-issue. That a company would hire lawyers to defend doorways they've left open to the world doesn't just show a fundamental lack of understanding of today's technologies, it's just bad form... it's petty and pompous and I hope their fucking stock shoots through the floor because people realize that the 'voice of new business' is speaking to them via telegraph.

(Note that the company's glitch is not about 'deep linking', wherein you link to something so deep inside the site that visitors miss out on all of the lovely marketing and branding opportunities that they'd have received had they come in through the front door. Their glitch is about linking at all, and they want you to send a fucking fax for permission? That's like mailing your neighbors a letter to ask if you can call them on the phone. How any company with a business plan could come up with such an idea is beyond me; how the supposed vanguard of the new tech business revolution fell into this particular rut calls their whole existence into question.)

For the lawyers: here's a bunch of links to shit from your client's site. Are you *really* going to help them look like total fucking knobs by addressing this issue legally? You can reach me at the email address listed on the sidebar if you're stupid enough to try, and you can reach the EFF here if you'd like to do some research on just how bright the flames you go down in will be.

(via BoingBoing) <-- proper attribution, foo. Not that BoingBoing would be so fucking stupid as to establish a policy against linking to them, or bring suit against me if I left it out. It's just good manners.

UPDATE (29 June 04): Fast Company backed down... to a slightly less stupid position. Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing as usual has some relevant insight:

Fast Company has amended its atrocious linking policy, but the one they've put in its place is only slightly better.

Fast Company permits links to the Web site. However, Fast Company reserves the right to withdraw permission for any link and requests that you not link for any impermissible purpose or in a manner that suggests that Fast Company promotes or endorses your Web site. does not allow framing of its Web site content.

The Web exists because there is no permission needed to create a link (and that includes a framing link). This is enshrined in the RFCs that defined the Web. It has been the guiding principle of the Web since the first page went online.

That permission-free world made the economy that Fast Company services possible...

This is a step in the right direction, but only a small one. The faxed-permission-form was ridiculous, but the real evil in it wasn't the ridiculousness, it was this damaging lie about permission being required for links.

I really hope that Fast Company acts like the heroes I know they can be here, changing their linking policy to something like:

The Web exists because no one has the right to grant or withhold permission for links. Fast Company exists because of the Web. Accordingly, we neither grant nor deny permission to link to our site, and urge you to do the same.

Or perhaps they could just drop the legalese altogether... if they can shake their addiction.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Califone at Berbati's Pan

Last night we went to Berbati's to see Califone, one of my favorite bands. I was bit anxious about the show because out of the last four shows scheduled in Portland, they only made it to two - van trouble on one occasion delivered them in time to play 2 rushed songs, and on another occasion Tim got deathly ill and cancelled the show... so I was delighted to see Ben Massarella (percussion) milling about outside when we arrived.

There were three bands:

Holy confusion, Batman

The Holy Sons are something like what would have happened if Jimi Hendrix had been a Mormon. The center of the band is Emil Amos, an intentionally obscure musician whose musical talent is quite impressive, but I found the lyrics to be occasionally trite and he seemed to have an agenda, something he was trying to sell us with his music. The better parts of the show sounded a bit like the Clairvoyants (this is a good thing), while the rest would have made straight-edge emo-core kids blush. Gotta give him credit for sticking to his ideals, but it just didn't move me much.

Arches and Aisles - and Gates

Rebecca Gates, formerly of the Spinanes, was on next, skillfully supported by Amy Domingues on organ and cello. Picture a continuum of all musicians spread out before you, arranged according to 'feel'. Draw a line connecting P.J. Harvey to Billie Holiday. (Work with me here, people.) Draw another connecting Liz Phair to Juliana Hatfield. At the point where those lines cross, move a small amount in just about any direction, and you'll find Rebecca Gates. (WTF he's making us do geometry now? mwahahaaa.) Rebecca was all over the place, from indie-pop to soulfully-sultry, with bitterness and blues and mirth and melody mixed in throughout. She's got an amazing voice, and put on a damn fine show, and I'm going to get her Arches and Aisles and Ruby Series CDs, as well as try to dig up some of the old Spinanes stuff.

scotch & ice; percodans; high on fumes; airplane ride

Califone! w0000t :) The evolution of this band continues to amaze me. I've seen them at the Satyricon, where I felt (pleasantly) like I'd stumbled into an opium den while a gig was going on; at the Blackbird, where they were having so much fun jamming it was more like a livingroom gig than a concert; and now at Berbati's, where they broke the few remaining preconceptions I had about them... they are their own type of music, there is no genre for this stuff, and this live show went beyond anything they've put on CD so far. Start by adding a banjo, a second percussionist, and the Stones to My Bloody Valentine or Jesus and Mary Chain or (sometimes) even Einstürzende Neubauten for the high-energy stuff, or drink a bottle of cough syrup and get a King Crimson 45 and play it at 33rpm for the slower stuff, and it *might* get you far enough out that you can see Califone from there if you look around hard enough. And then the next song will be this simple folk ballad that sounds like it could have been sung around a gypsy campfire or on a Louisiana porch.

Joe Adamik (primarily drums) and Jim Becker (primarily fiddle, banjo, guitar, some voice) laid down the foundation for each of the tunes while Ben Massarella (a percussionist who is just as good at knowing which sounds to leave out as which to put in) and Tim Rutili (voice, guitar, minimalist vintage organ, broken toys) drove the songs from whisper to wall-of-sound and back again. Near the end of the set, Tim had some sort of argument with his guitar that resulted in the guitar's banishment to the back corner of the stage, but luckily this resulted in the most intense version of 'Electric Fence' (with Tim now on organ) that I've ever heard, possibly that they've ever played.

The thing I dug the most about the show was watching the way the band hardly ever looked at their instruments... they were looking at each other, following each other's lead, and if Tim decided to turn a song on a dime the rest of the band didn't even miss a beat. Ben got so into it at one point that he didn't seem to notice that his drumsticks were shattering and flinging splinters into the audience. And when the band invited Rebecca and Amy back onstage for 'Fisherman's Wife' and 'Michigan Girls' (two of the mellower songs), Amy's cello and Rebecca's voice made two already awesome songs even better.

I think you could say this was a good show :)

Friday, June 25, 2004

you first, buddy

Yesterday on the Senate floor, Vice (in all senses of that word) pResident Dick (in all senses of that word) Cheney responded to criticism from Patrick Leahy by telling him "go fuck yourself". Apparently Cheney was a bit upset that Leahy has had the gall to call for investigations into Cheney's continued rape of the US treasury via possibly felonious misuse of his powers as head of the Energy Task Force. Under Dick's guidance, the Task Force continues to grant Halliburton lucrative contracts despite the fact that they are almost always the most expensive solution and they have admitted to multi-million dollar kickback scandals.

For the record, if it had been a democrat saying that to a republican there would probably be a body swinging from a tree on Capitol Hill by now.

Bush is an idiot, but Cheney isn't. That makes Cheney much more scary than Bush - after all, stupid evil will trip over it's own feet, but intelligent evil just keeps going and going and going...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

zine scene

If you're near me geographically (hint: look up. Grey? You might be my neighbor), the Portland Zine Symposium starts tomorrow (25 June) and goes through the weekend. This isn't a couple of pasty-faced zinesters sitting quietly behind tables - it's an active and info-filled event where a lot of talent and creativity come together in an effort to inspire more of the same.

This event aims to create greater communication and community between many different producers of independent media and artists, as well as help people share skills and information related to zines and zine culture. Through hands-on and discussion-based workshops, the conference will examine the role and effect of all types of zines in and on underground and mainstream culture.

Admission is free. The weekend includes workshops, panel discussions, community meal fixings, film screenings, and several tables for networking, selling and trading zines. There are also a multitude of guerrilla workshops throughout the weekend.

The 2003 symposium drew about 800-1,200 participants, both local and national.

I've still got a few zines from the early 80's punk scene... I wish I had had the foresight to hang onto some of the ultra-early Hank Rollins stuff like my friend Julie did. I remember many a night pasting together and photocopying punk/Erisian/Dobbsian stream-of-altered-consciousness wackiness ('free dope and fucking in the street: possible utopia exists almost instantaneously'), wandering around Salt Lake City tacking up flyers with toner-blackened fingers, trying to subvert the dominant paradigm, or at least make some small dent in the consensus narrative of that time and place. In this digital age, where webpages have mostly taken over the role played by zines in the past, I'm glad to see that the anachronistic (or perhaps, at this point, fetishistic) paper zine scene is still thriving.

busting out

This summer's issue of BUST magazine (put it back in your pants, guys, it's "for women with something to get off their chest") rocks... there are interviews with Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys), who may be the hippest actress in existence, and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten), who at age 51 is in my book the undisputed queen of 'No Wave' music... Sonic Youth was twisting my fragile little brain when I was just a wee punkling.

Malone, who is incredibly intelligent and unpretentious (as a human in general, not just as a movie star), is in two of my all-time favorite films, yet she says in her interview that she doesn't think she has too many fans... I'm a bit too old to be writing fanboy letters to young actresses, so someone else will need to disabuse her of that notion. She's got a "no quarter asked, none given" attitude towards her career, only taking roles 'that truthfully depict young girls', choosing not to reinforce the Hollywood/cultural stereotypes that disempower women.

Kim Gordon's interview ranges from music to raising her daughter in New York to what she's going to do art-wise in the future. Not that there's any hurry to change things - despite the cancellation of Lollapalooza, Sonic Youth is touring to support their new album (which the band described by saying "imagine 'Bare Trees' era Fleetwood Mac jamming with 'Jealous Again' era Black Flag"). As for raising her daughter, maybe she needs to get Ariel Gore's newest 'Hip Mama' book Whatever, Mom, which Ariel co-wrote with her own daughter.

The rest of the magazine ranges from articles on the role of women in video games to the history and origin of the vibrator, from grown women who aren't afraid to collect dolls to the Martha Stewart witch-hunt. It all falls somewhere in the middle of third-wave feminism: it's not Cosmo, (i.e. it's ok to be who you are without trying to look like a Barbie doll, or without swinging the other way entirely), and it's not Scum Manifesto, (i.e. you don't have to hate/kill all of the men in order to feel good about being a woman).

For the record, I do have a personal interest in all of this. (I bet you think I'm going to say 'I feel like I'm a woman inside'.) I feel like I'm a woman inside. (Haha! Thanks, I'll be here all week...) No, actually the deal is that I know a lot of women who have stood up and defied the tyranny of *both sides* of the feminism issue, and I find that these are the women I respect the most... one of them is my lovely partner of almost 18 years.

Docile acceptance of the crappy deal this society pushes on women isn't very appealing, and making the pendulum swing the other way still leaves you part of the same machine. I believe that if someone tells you "don't cross this line", and you cross it just to defy them, they've controlled you just as completely as if you had obeyed in the first place. The only true freedom is to ignore the line entirely and figure out where your path goes on your own. It doesn't hurt to share stories with other people who are also seeking their own paths... and it looks to me like that is what BUST magazine is trying to do for women who are looking for more out of life. Good for them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Turing remembered

Today would have been Alan Turing's 92nd birthday, something of a moot point considering he killed himself just over 50 years ago. But he's one of my heroes, so here's a raised glass and a thank you to one of the brightest humans of the modern era, someone who knew that beauty is a necessary condition of truth - the closer you get to the right answer, the more elegant the equations become.

Einstein (whose name you know because he had better PR than Turing) is remembered for this same thing... distilling dozens of absurdly complex equations into the 'simple' E=mc2, which despite its simplicity actually said more than all of the other equations combined. Turing's genius was no less lacking in elegance, intuition, and the belief that the truth is something beautiful... but his work was classified, and the problems he distilled the essence out of were so fantastically complex that his amazing elegant versions of the larger equations still don't lend themselves to bumper-sticker sized short-form versions.

Richard Feynman tops my list of science heroes (which Einstein isn't even on), and he had a couple of relevant things to say... when he received his Nobel Prize at a young age (for work we are *still* only just recognizing the genius of, stuff that moved all of quantum physics to a solid footing from the realms of almost hallucinogenic interpretation that were coming from Einstein, Schroedinger, Bohr, and friends), he was asked by a journalist to say in two minutes what he had done that was deserving of the prize. Feynman replied "listen buddy, if I could describe it in two minutes it wouldn't be worth a Nobel Prize". Later in his career, however, this occured:

Feynman immensely enjoyed the challenge of reducing complex ideas so that they could be presented to students, and used that as a measure to determine whether something was really understood. Feynman was once asked by a fellow faculty member to explain why spin ½ particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics. He set off to prepare a freshman lecture on the subject. However, a few days later, he returned and said, "You know, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don’t understand it."

This sort of insight is rare and valuable... and it pervaded Turing's work, his quest for beauty and truth, and his belief that beauty and truth are the same thing.

Peace be upon you, Alan.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Your tax dollars at work...

...providing corporate welfare to billion-dollar industries

Well, I guess nobody ever accused our government of doing anything intelligent, but this one deserves special recognition - a bill that is receiving bipartisan support aims to outlaw filesharing:

Popular file-trading networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus would be outlawed under a new bill that enjoys broad support from top Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Their legislation says "whoever intentionally induces any violation" of copyright law would be legally liable for those violations, a prohibition that would effectively ban file-swapping networks and could also imperil some consumer electronics devices.

It surprises me not at all that Grand Wacko Fucktard Orrin Hatch is a key proponent of this legislation... the guy has been on the wrong side of reason for at least the last twenty years. Everyone knows Hatch is crazy. Even crazy people. Everyone.

The problems with banning P2P networks include:

It can't be done.

Encryption, trust-boundary/friend-of-a-friend networking, and almost total connectivity saturation ensure that, in some form or another, file trading will always exist. The only attempts that have come close to stopping file trading have been the draconian efforts of the Chinese government, and even they are losing the battle due to technologies like Freenet. The internet is the closest we've ever come to a truly democratic technology, and throughout history there have been concerted efforts on the part of the vested interests to fight such things: popes and politicians, kings and capitalists, they've always agreed that The People need to be prevented from communicating. If 'freedom of the press is for those who own one', it's just easier for them to smash the presses. This current legislation is a hamfisted attempt to do just that with today's technology.

Current copyright laws are ludicrous.

The RIAA/MPAA have bought a lot of politicians in their efforts to 'protect their copyrights'. As a result, some seriously defective copyright legislation is in place, including an indefinite extension of copyright that is preventing any work produced after 1923 from entering the public domain, which is the same as saying that it prevents those works from becoming a part of our culture. Most media companies have a huge backlog of currently-unpublished materials that they are just keeping to make sure no one else makes money off of it, even when they themselves have no intention of rereleasing any of it. This is a huge cultural loss... years from now, the only record of these days will be the one the marketers have decided on.

The idea that congress can legislate such things is unconstitutional, and they know it.

The constitution grants congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". They've already weaseled their way around the 'limited Times' part of that clause, granting themselves power to extend copyright indefinitely. Now, on that shaky legal ground, they are trying to build additional layers of legislation that will shore up their newfound unconstitutional powers. Once they have a body of laws in place that are predicated on the assumed legality of the tweaked copyright laws, the house of cards will be too fragile to disturb, and their campaign contributors will buy them all houses in Hawaii.

The punishment doesn't fit the crime.

The RIAA has managed to convince congress that anyone caught downloading a few songs caused them to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the 3,429 people against whom the RIAA has filed lawsuits have settled out of court for a few thousand dollars and a promise to never fileshare again, but this is mostly because not a single case has actually gone to trial. When they come at you with a lawsuit that says you are responsible for a quarter of a million dollars in damages, you'll settle fast... but the whole thing reeks of corporate hooliganism.

The profit margin for the media companies (*not* for the artists themselves, who are being more fucked by the media companies than they are by the file-sharing) is so large that file-sharing hardly dents it.

Every single study that has been done by non-industry researchers has shown that the overall effect file-sharing has on CD sales ranges from zero to positive. The media industry studies show the exact opposite, but their yearly profit reports put the lie to their own press releases.

Those are just the first few reasons that rattled off the top of my head.

I know writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers, and I'd like to see them make a living at what they do. The first step in doing this, however, is *not* to start throwing kids in jail for file-trading, or attacking those who create the technologies that enable such a thing. They could just as soon attack the VCR manufacturers for enabling the taping of TV shows (err... they *did* do that, actually) or the CD-burner manufacturers for letting people copy files (err, they tried that too. Real progressive types, these guys.) Many music and book companies are finding that they make more money by giving away some of their product than they do by selling it - the goodwill such an act generates, combined with the ability to test-drive the product before commiting your cash, seems to have a very positive effect on sales.

This from Moby:

Personally i just can't see any good in coming from punishing people for being music fans and making the effort to hear new music. I'm almost tempted to go onto kazaa and download some of my own music, just to see if the RIAA would sue me for having mp3's of my own songs on my hard-drive.

The place to start is for the various media industries to provide proper recompense to the artists. This, however, would cut into their filthy lucre, and the fatcats would squeal like a pig and pull the strings on their congressional puppets to pass laws ensuring high profits for the corporations at the expense of the artists who are the bedrock of their industry, so it's never going to happen. The next best place to start is to fuck corporate media altogether... get your music from indie studios, support your local art house, watch films at the funky old church converted into a theater instead of at the Super Mega Mega Shopping Plex theater, get as far away from Fox News as you can and get your news from independent sources on the web. Don't buy CDs from big realworld or online shops... order them direct from the indie label, or even better go the the show and buy the CD there... they get all $10 of it instead of the pennies they get after Big Business is done screwing them.

As someone who has studied programming, networking, and cryptography, my overall reaction to this new bill is 'bring it on'. Just as with Napster, the laws will only spur evolutionary development of new technologies that circumvent their silly little laws. Watching these particular dinosaurs die off in the face of a changing world has a certain romantic appeal to me.


Monday, June 21, 2004

One small step...

This morning Spaceship One, Burt Rutan's entry in the X-Prize competition (to create a reusable aircraft that can launch three passengers into sub-orbital space, return them safely home, then repeat the launch within two weeks with the same vehicle), completed the first manned private spaceflight without incident. Pilot (and now 'astronaut', that's got to look good on a resumé) Mike Melvill took the ship to an altitude of 62 miles, which while still suborbital is nevertheless outside of Earth's atmosphere.

Rutan is only one of many trying to wring access to space from the clutches of governments, militaries, and (of course) gravity. But the guy is preloaded for success... in the field of aircraft design, he's something of a Da Vinci. Most of the competition is way behind him - this isn't criticism, it's space we're talking about after all - and the design of Spaceship One shows the mix of elegance and innovation that has characterized his work for decades.

With NASA destroying the shuttle program (because somebody forgot to tell congress that strapping a huge rocket to your ass *might* cause occasional fatalities... think about Yeager and all of the early test pilots, go watch 'The Right Stuff', then look at today's simpering politicos who snub any research that might lead to a bad headline during their tenure), the privatization of space ('privatization' is a funny word, because in a way it really opens up space for everyone) is an important research area. It means that we might continue to explore space for reasons both scientific and economic, instead of just as an eternal pissing match between countries trying to prove their superiority (or trying to militarize space, as our clueless leader strives to).


Sunday, June 20, 2004

Doctorow on DRM

Cory Doctorow recently gave a talk to the folks at Microsoft about why Digital Rights Management is doomed to fail. His arguments are essentially unassailable... he covers the technical reasons as well as the social reasons for the inevitable demise of DRM, and comes to the obvious (and yet thoroughly ignored) conclusion that the whole thing is just the last dying gasp of an industry that is terrified of new democratic techologies.

In his speech, Cory mentions the 'Darknet' paper, a Microsoft research project that described the futility of the situation and recommended that Microsoft back off of the DRM initiatives. One of the conclusions is that, paradoxically, the efforts of media industries to force DRM on consumers leads to an increase in piracy, not the expected decrease:

Here's a true story about a user I know who was stopped by DRM. She's smart, college educated, and knows nothing about electronics. She has three kids. She has a DVD in the living room and an old VHS deck in the kids' playroom. One day, she brought home the Toy Story DVD for the kids. That's a substantial investment, and given the generally jam-smeared character of everything the kids get their paws on, she decided to tape the DVD off to VHS and give that to the kids -- that way she could make a fresh VHS copy when the first one went south. She cabled her DVD into her VHS and pressed play on the DVD and record on the VCR and waited.

Before I go farther, I want us all to stop a moment and marvel at this. Here is someone who is practically technophobic, but who was able to construct a mental model of sufficient accuracy that she figured out that she could connect her cables in the right order and dub her digital disc off to analog tape. I imagine that everyone in this room is the front-line tech support for someone in her or his family: would it be great if all our non-geek friends and relatives were this clever and imaginative?

I also want to point out that this is the proverbial honest user. She's not making a copy for the next door neighbors. She's not making a copy and selling it on a blanket on Canal Street. She's not ripping it to her hard-drive, DivX encoding it and putting it in her Kazaa sharepoint. She's doing something *honest* -- moving it from one format to another. She's home taping.

Except she fails. There's a DRM system called Macrovision embedded -- by law -- in every DVD player and VHS that messes with the vertical blanking interval in the signal and causes any tape made in this fashion to fail. Macrovision can be defeated for about $10 with a gadget readily available on eBay. But our infringer doesn't know that. She's "honest." Technically unsophisticated. Not stupid, mind you -- just naive.

The Darknet paper addresses this possibility: it even predicts what this person will do in the long run: she'll find out about Kazaa and the next time she wants to get a movie for the kids, she'll download it from the net and burn it for them.

Typical US businesses... shoot themselves in the foot every time. But I guess the old dinosaurs are having trouble adjusting to a world in which their ability to generate 2500% profit on a CD and 1700% profit on a DVD is being threatened by the onset of new enabling technologies. It's the same story as the actual dinosaurs: adapt to the new environment, or die.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

we've made a lot of changes since you went insane

In the interests of accessability and to comply with current web standards, I've rewritten much of the code behind this site, and added a few new features. There will be some odd behavior now and again as I tweak the CSS, and some even weirder shit if you are using Internet Explorer (which intentionally defies established web standards), but in the meantime here are the important bits:

Selectable style sheets

If you've got Javascript and CSS enabled, you'll see some links on the left that allow you to choose how you wish to view this page.

The dark style

This is the way I designed the site, though I just made some minor readability changes to it as well (brighter text, cleaner layout). I've been informed that some people find it difficult to read... if the new brighter font colors don't fix that for you, try the other setting.

The light style

New, as seen on TV. White background, darker text, still basically uses the original color scheme, but loses all of that lovely black. This scheme has a higher contrast ratio, so people whose eyes or monitors found the default style to be unreadable should have more luck with this.

The large print

For either of the choices above, you can set the fonts to a larger size for improved readability, or back to the smaller size so you fit more on the screen. Make yourself comfortable.

The fine print

When you change the style of this page, the Javascript attempts to store a cookie that makes your choice persistent. This cookie (named 'WitL', and containing only the name of the style you have chosen) is harmless, and prevents you from having to mess with the styling again on every page. For those who just don't accept cookies regardless (feel the love, people... c o o k i e s), I'm working on adding a checkbox to disable the cookie.

Printer-friendly post pages

On the individual post pages (the 'permalink' at the bottom of posts on the main page), there is now a 'Printer Friendly' option. This changes the style to simple black-on-white, with all of the cruft on the left side hidden as well so you just get the post and comments. This setting is not persistent - no cookie is set, and when you return to the main page it will be styled in the manner you have chosen, unless you haven't chosen in which case you get the default styling.

All of this assumes that you have a modern CSS-aware browser with Javascript and (optionally) cookies enabled.

Power to the people :)


fuck the suits - what do the artists think about filesharing?

via DNA Lounge:

In the middle of Sister Machine Gun's set at DNA lounge, the singer had this to say about filesharing of the band's music:

Everything we've played in this set up to this juncture, this crossroads, this... interlude... is released on Positron Records, which we own and operate, the representative of which [at the merch booth] will be happy to supply you with a fix in that regard, for a modest fee which will go toward letting us sleep in a hotel room instead of the van...

Everything after that juncture (that interlude) is released on Wax Trax Records. which means it's owned by -- actually it's not owned by TVT Records, it's owned by Credit Suisse. So technically speaking, the first four Sister Machine Gun albums are released on Credit Suisse, a Swiss bank, which is kind of cool when you think about it.

The point being, I don't get fuckin' paid for that shit, not a dime, not a single red cent. So you can go ahead and go home, and -- hey, you can download it right the fuck here, they got WiFi. Just get up on Morpheus or some fuckin' thing and get that shit for free.

All that crap you hear about musicians starving has almost nothing to do with all of the filesharing... when Napster was big, my CD collection sprang from a couple of dozen CDs to a couple of hundred CDs, almost all of which were bands I got turned onto by downloading songs - a good song would make me want to hear the rest of the band's music. All the fud being generated by the RIAA is to hide the fact that the reason artists aren't making money is that they only get about 35 cents from the sale of a $25 CD.

As my previous post shows, indie bands and labels are hip to the idea of putting out free music to attract new listeners. The world is changing, and the suits (and politicians) don't want it to, because it threatens their carefully manicured existence. The artists that embrace the new technologies are doing pretty good... not just musicians, even authors, like Cory Doctorow, who has made more money releasing his books for free than he did selling them. The new world is wired [ or wireless :) ] - what made people think the changes brought on by that wouldn't be as significant as the advent of radio (which record companies embraced as free advertising) or television (which the movie companies fought tooth and nail)?

Friday, June 18, 2004

free the tunes

via farkleberries:

Each day 3hive brings you indie and alternative mp3s for download, free and legal. Today they had about 20 songs, including a few by Azure Ray and Low that were awesome. They've got archives going back to February... there's something for everybody, from jazz to punk to trip-hop and slowcore, and the RIAA can go fuck themselves because the files are put out into the wild by the bands themselves.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever

It's just a Ulysses kind of day, I guess.

I'm on day two of an experiment of sorts... my physical pain has been bad enough to keep me in bed for the past few months, but lying around only partially mitigates the pain, and if I'm going to be up all night dealing with the pain anyway, I'd rather spend part of my day outside enjoying the amazing weather we're having, or doing something 'productive'. So far 'productive' means getting out and meeting my neighbors, working on the house a bit, playing guitar out on the porch, watering Anne-Marie's gardens, and in general just trying to experience some of this beautiful summer to shake off the chill of the leaden winter.

At the very least, it seems to be doing my head some good, but my body hurts more. (It wouldn't bother me at all if this added activity exacerbated my physical problems to the point that they were more medically obvious... nothing worse than having doctors shrug when they can't figure out what's wrong with me.) Also, I've got this new thing going on where my sleep meds are losing the fight against the pain, so I just don't sleep anymore, for days at a time - but this added physical activity helps tire me out, and last night I had about 5 hours of the most welcome sleep.

I'm trying to cultivate hope that my 'condition' will be at the very least identified if not actually 'cured' in the near future, but after 4+ years of progressively increasing pain, hope does not come easy to me. Getting out and seeing the world a bit reminds me that life isn't necessarily a continuous landscape of pain, that there is some beauty out there, even if I am clutching my guts in pain when I see it.

Bloomsday hack

In the technosphere recently there's been some talk about the new breed of virii that can infect cellphones, but I hadn't heard of any being caught out in the wild yet, just proof of concept stuff. Well, that all changed today, when some erudite hackers released the Bloomsday virus to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday and to "show illiterate technophiles the power of the written word".

The virus replaces the phone's address book and stored files with the entire text of Ulysses. As rough as that may be for individual users whose phones get trashed, I have to admit that I think this particular hack is a work of creative genius.

"I was really freaked out when I turned on my phone and found this convoluted narrative mess crawling across my screen," said Jack Clemson, a University of Washington student who owns one of the first known infected phones. "'Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed'... I was pretty sure that wasn't my girlfriend texting me about lunch."

I get the impression this Clemson guy might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Or how about this:

"Ulysses may be the zenith of modernist writing in the novel form, but it's barely recognizable as a novel or as any other kind of writing," said Francis Harrod, of the anti-virus software developer F-Secure. "Of course the same can be said of text messaging; but nonetheless I sincerely doubt America's youth is equal to the task of sudden, unanticipated confrontation with this book. It could be extremely damaging to their minds."

I say bring it on... it's not like most of their minds are being used for anything useful anyway.


hope unlooked for

When such notable hate-monger conservative press as Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative starts printing articles condemning Abu Ghraib, the total lack of conscience the US is showing over that issue, and Bush's complete failure as a president, it's enough to make me go take a look. They're still complete whackjobs, mind you, but the current administration scares me so much that I'm willing to entertain the idea that in the short term the enemy of my enemy might be my friend.

The magazine is full of self-righteous hate speech - they don't even try to hide it. It seems like almost every article finds some way to take a jab at the Jews or the 'towel heads' or basically anyone who isn't a radically conservative white American Christian nutcase. That they should turn on the 'neocons' does not really surprise me, because 'neocon' is just a politically-correct term for 'fascist' as it is being practiced by the Bush camp. That they would turn against Bush specifically surprised me a little, because sheep tend to follow anything that looks like a shepherd, and the 'rally round the flag' factor is still in play. But when Buchanan sits down with Ralph Nader to discuss Nader as a possible candidate for disenfranchised conservatives, I'm not sure if I'm reading the news or The Onion. (Not like there's been much difference between the two for the past few years - The Onion just tells the same story as the mainstream news, but they put it into a perspective where it is obvious how crazy it is).

Interestingly enough, one of the articles says the following (in relation to the Iraqi 'rebellion'):

If only George W. Bush had read Lawrence of Arabia, rather than Wolfowitz of Mesopotamia, he would have known that Lawrence recruited many a man to fight against the Turks, all of whom eventually turned against the Brits once the hated Johnny Turk had been sent packing back to Istanbul. That history repeats itself is a cliché, but a hell of a good one.

Though I am given hope by the sight of conservatives abandoning Bush, I don't really have much hopes for reconciliation - I'm aware that even if we were to magically work towards a common goal in this next election, they'd turn around and bite us right after. But the hope that their defection engenders in me that Bush will be gone is too good to ignore.

All of this assumes, of course, that Bush doesn't cancel the elections for national security purposes, doesn't pull an already-captured Osama (remember him?) out of the hat for an October surprise (or worse, a 9/11 surprise), and doesn't rig the elections... I'm not sure whether or not that is too much to hope for. I do know that I'm disgusted that so many Americans (myself included) just take for granted the possibility/probability that Bush will make a grab for power that defies the will of the people.


new internet tools

Shorter URLs:

NotLong lets you create a simple URL as an alias for a long hard-to-remember one. For instance, the place I go to get drivers for my laptop is

... I can now get there by going to If there's a site you always have trouble remembering, create an alias that makes more sense. It's free.

More email options:

Apparently Google's new Gmail service scared Yahoo - Yahoo Mail just changed their setup to allow 100MB of storage and individual emails of up to 10MB... good for those large picture transfers and such. Hell - this is good for just backing up important stuff... just mail it to yourself. It's not like Google is going to go out of business ever, and Yahoo's probably got years of life left.

P2P meets social networking:

CleverCactus' share is like a cross between Friendster and Kazaa... you do peer-to-peer file-sharing, but the only people who have access are the ones who are in your social networking group: friends, friends of friends, etc.

With share, you can make your files or folders available to an individual or a group of people without the complexity of maintaining multiple password protected websites or FTP sites. Users will only see those files or folders that you have shared with them: clevercactus share ensures that none of your files are available to people outside of your network.

As a user, you can also browse all of the files and folders your family, friends or co-workers have made available to you, making it simple to choose what you want. If you are not sure who has the file, a search will return results from all of the people you know.

Of course, you've got the 'six degrees of separation' phenomenon, and the resulting statistical likelihood that somewhere down the line a friend of a friend of an etc will do something stupid, but for small groups (especially collaborative projects, I'd guess) this sounds like a great tool.


James Joyce's notebook entry for this day 80 years ago says:

James Joyce

"Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anyone remember this date?"

Aye, they will indeed. Today is the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce's Ulysses follows characters Stephen Dedalus and Leopold & Molly Bloom through Dublin on 16 June 1904.

Joyce picked that day for the story because that was the day of his first date (actually it was his second first date - she'd stood him up two days before) with the improbably-named Nora Barnacle, who is alternately decribed as Joyce's muse or bane depending on the source... she is part Molly Bloom, the 'lusty' (would anyone call a man 'lusty'?) wife of Leopold Bloom in the story, but she is also the person who asked Joyce when he started working on Finnegan's Wake if

"instead of that chop suey you're writing, you might not try sensible books that people can understand."

Joyce's unflinching description of Dublin life, his defiance of Irish Catholicism, and his unique writing style often led to his books being banned - at one point it was illegal to read Joyce in any English-speaking nation. (Joyce once remarked that he wished the critics would, instead of worrying about the book's obscenity, at least acknowledge that the book was funny.)

Nowadays you probably can't get through school without reading him, and every Bloomsday thousands of people meet in Dublin (and numerous other cities, to a lesser degree of realism) for re-enactments of the story - not an easy task, since there are multiple simultaneous intersecting threads, so it's not like just watching a play - and to follow the footsteps of the characters to Dublin landmarks such as the Duke Street pub where they can order a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich just as Leopold Bloom did in the book a hundred years ago.

Joyce was so far beyond the writings of his times that even today we're having trouble catching up with him. But here we are a hundred years later, and Ulysses is often referred to as the greatest novel ever written, not a modernist masterpiece but the modernist masterpiece. People *do* remember this date - what more could a brilliant writer ask for?


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

it is perfect, it is madness

Jason Webley, who is one of the most original and inspired solo artists I know of (a typical performance bounces back and forth between something like the gypsy music scenes in "The Red Violin" or "Chocolat", old-world bar songs, channeling Tom Waits, and a lot of stuff that is purely Jason), has a new album out... the last song, 'Coda', was the recurring theme from his last 'last show ever', which was stunning. You can listen to the whole thing online (streaming somethingorother, needs flash); if you like it, you can order it here.

Jason's touring Europe right now, but he'll be back in the states just in time for the Oregon Country Fair (w000t).

Only Just Beginning

Sunday, June 13, 2004

the names of the dead

The folks at Signal Orange want to make sure you don't forget that all those senseless casualties in Iraq aren't just numbers, they are people who, until recently, had names and beating hearts.

To the families of the soldiers

First of all, it’s impossible to imagine words that would provide comfort for your loss. We’re aware that the person you loved most likely died doing something that they believed in, and we hope you agree that what they believed in was preserving and spreading democratic values.

For those of us who participate in Signal Orange, we do so in the spirit of protecting those same values.

It’s true that the loss is yours, and we do not intend to add to the pain of it, nor do we want to belittle it, nor do we claim it as our own. What Signal Orange addresses is another loss, which is the loss of our collective ability to really consider the war with full information. If we’re hiding the casualties, how can we take pride in what our soldiers are fighting for? If we’re hiding the casualties, what else are we hiding?

It’s possible that in making them visible, we support and respect these soldiers more than our government does when it hides them and laughs over the senselessness of the war that killed them. While broadcasting jokes, it obscures the pain, yours and everyone's. That the current administration then expects censorship to be understood as compassion — that’s a very scary moment in history.

Signal Orange isn’t trying to speak for your loved ones and it isn’t trying to speak for you. We’re speaking for the voting public that needs to know the actual costs of this or any war if we are to meaningfully support it.

Their goal is to get as many people as they can in shirts that each have the name of a dead soldier on them, and wear them anywhere the press is: Republican National Convention, March on Washington, whatever it takes. It's a non-profit venture, and you can help out by going here.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare

Godwin's Law or no, the parallels between the US now and Germany in the 1930's are frighteningly numerous. The strongest correlation lies in the personality of the rulers: they each responded to world events by appealing to rhetoric, flag-waving, and the basest desire for revenge, so abstracted that it doesn't matter who you attack as long as you attack *someone*. They both used the nominal cause of freedom to systematically destroy freedoms. They both felt that their authority to do so derived from On High.

It doesn't even fucking matter if you are Republican or Democrat... just think for a minute about what this country was like some years ago, and compare it to now. I'll even keep one analytic hand behind my back and allow the Reagan years to be valid for the sake of this discussion. Reagan felt he was above the law, so he tried to do all the dirty work in secret. Nixon too. Bush, on the other hand, feels SO above the law that he does it right out in the open, and it shames us all in the eyes of the world. Many Americans might think "so what, we don't *need* the world" - but what happens when you do? (And you already do.) When you've alienated everybody? A little humility could go a long way here.

The 'real' America is still remembered here in Berlin for the enormous contributions of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift -- America at its best. It is time to return to that generosity and grace.

The strongest criticism that the administration levels at Sen. John Kerry is that he changes his mind. In fact, instead of a president who claims an infallibility that exceeds that of the pope, America would be much better off with a president who, like John F. Kennedy, is honest enough to admit mistakes and secure enough to change his mind.

I don't think Kerry is the end-all answer to our problems. But I don't think he's got as much cocaine-addled determination to turn this country into a police state as Bush has either. Bush is obviously insane with power. I *want* a president who thinks before he acts, even if the thinking makes him change what he was going to do. Especially then.

If Kerry wins, they'll pin all the fallout from Bush's term on him... there is a momentum to things, and he is going to need to apply a negative force to reverse that. The flagwavers aren't going to like it. The old guard isn't going to like it. I don't think it's going to be pleasant at all. Kerry must be fucking insane to even want the damn job right now. But on the off chance that he's just willing to step up to the plate and take one for the team, I hope like hell he wins. Heh - 'wins'. Like when you 'win' an eBay auction. All that means is it's now time for you to pay for your 'winning'.

But it's better than making the whole country pay.

Friday, June 11, 2004

feel the love

via jwz:

never say die

Also: Greg Palast's response to the revisionist wankfest on the news.

Monday, June 07, 2004


50 years ago today Alan Turing brushed some cyanide crystals onto an apple, tucked himself into bed in his Cheshire home, and drifted off into his final sleep with the bluish tinge of cyanide on his lips. His many accomplishments include inventing the theory of computation that brought forth the modern computer and cracking the German Enigma and Fish codes in the second world war - if he hadn't been so unfathomably brilliant, there is a pretty good chance you'd either be reading this in German or not reading it at all for want of suitable technology.

Unfortunately, the classified nature of his work meant that there was no public awareness of his invaluable contributions to the war effort. They were aware, however, of his homosexuality, which (classified as 'gross indecency') was illegal at the time in Britain. Male homosexuality, that is... lesbianism was never a crime in England because Queen Victoria said "women don’t do such things". When one of Turing's flings stole some money from him and he reported this to the police, the ensuing investigation revealed Turing's homosexuality, and his society dealt with him in the standard manner of the times: estrogen shots to subdue his libido. There is some belief that the 'fling' in question was working for British intelligence, which had harassed Turing and denied him a position - no pun intended, but this was like removing their queen from the board - because of his sexuality.

Turing's early work on the theory of computation opened the door for the modern electronic computer. The first practical application of his ideas, however, was a mechanical device. While the Germans were busy dropping bombs all over Britain, Turing himself dropped the Bombe into Hut 11 at Bletchley Park, the center of the British cryptanalysis effort in the war. This device used Turing's ideas (and some ace statistical work done by Polish mathematicians) to reduce the possible decodings of intercepted Enigma ciphertext from almost infinite numbers to a size that could most often be tackled in a day, before the codes changed at midnight and the process would start all over again.

The ability to decode intercepted German messages gave the Allies a tremendous advantage in the war (particularly in the Atlantic, where German subs were sinking millions of tons of relief supplies bound for Britain from the US), but it also created a conundrum: acting on a certain piece of data might prove to the Germans that the Allies had broken their code, and then they would change it and we'd all be fucked. This led to a few situations where the Allies had to sit back and watch their ships or cities be destroyed to avoid showing their hand.

With his work at Bletchley Park, Turing probably contributed more to the Allied war effort than any other single person anywhere. His idea of a universal computing machine, which eventually led to the computer you are using right now, has had similar effects on the world at large: an information revolution to rival or even surpass the industrial revolutions of previous ages. Thinking of what this one man did for the world, I'm reminded of that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Legolas chastises Boromir, saying 'you owe him your allegiance'.

Turing's memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, includes a life-size bronze statue of Turing sitting on a bench, apple in hand. His epitaph reads

Alan Mathison Turing
Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice

I've always wondered about Turing's choice of suicide method: there are other stories in which poisoned apples play a part, from the book of Genesis to Snow White. It is easy to imagine Turing finding some fitting symbolism in one or both of those stories to guide his hand.


For Turing's life story, the BBC's Breaking the Code (double-entendre here: Turing broke the German war code with his genius, and the British social code with his sexuality) starring Derek Jacobi is a little slow but covers the more personal side of Turing's life quite well.

His technical achievements can be found in hundreds of books, but the best explanation I've read of the process used to decode Enigma is in The Code Book by Simon Singh. This webpage also gives an excellent and thorough introduction to the workings of Enigma and the techniques used to break it. There are also some online Enigma simulators (such as this 3-rotor java applet version) if you get to the point where you want to actually try it yourself.

The best film I've seen on the subject doesn't explicitly feature Turing - in Enigma, the main character (Tom Jericho, played by Dougray Scott) is a mashup of Turing and a few other historical characters, the result of some creative license on the part of the screenplay writer (Tom Stoppard, who also did Brazil, Empire of the Sun, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Shakespeare in Love). This film does an excellent job of explaining the immensity of the problem they faced:

Tom Jericho: Enigma is a very sophisticated enciphering machine, and Shark is its ultimate refinement. So... we're not talking about the Times crossword here... it weighs twenty-six pounds, battery included, and goes anywhere. The Enigma machine - the Germans have thousands of them.
Hammerbeck: What's it do?
Tom Jericho: It turns plain-text messages into gobbledygook. Then the gobbledygook is transmitted in Morse. At the other end is another enigma machine, which translates the message back to the original text. Press the same key any number of times, it'll always come out different.
Hammerbeck: And you have one of your own.
Logie: Uh, courtesy of the Polish Cipher Bureau.
Hammerbeck: So what's the problem?
Tom Jericho: The problem? The problem is the machine has a hundred and fifty million, million, million ways of doing it, depending on how you set these three rotors, and these four plugs.
Hammerbeck: And that's Shark?
Tom Jericho: No. No, no, no, this is the one we can break. Shark is enciphered on a special Enigma machine with a fourth rotor, designed especially for U-Boats - which gives it about four thousand million, BILLION starting positions. And, uh, we've never seen one.
Hammerbeck: Holy shit...

The math nerd in me is a little bit peeved that the second 'harder' number he gives is actually smaller than the first one by a factor of 37.5, I guess they figured since they only used the word 'million' in the 3-rotor description and they used the word 'billion' in the 4-rotor description, and 'billion' is clearly bigger... doh. In reality, the 3-rotor version has about 3*10114 possible configurations, while the 4-rotor version has about 2*10145 possible configurations. Turing's breakthrough ideas reduced these numbers to a maximum of 'only' about 1023 possible configurations, and the analytic techniques he and his cohorts developed brought that number down much lower, until it was within reach of the Bombes.

If you're interested in the science of cryptography, there's really only one place to start: Bruce Schneier's Applied Cryptography. If you're still interested/able/sane after reading that and you want to go further, Lawrence Washington's Elliptic Curves: Number Theory and Cryptography is pretty good.

If you're interested in fiction that involves cryptography, here too there is really only one place to start: Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

a black day for the Blank Generation

Punk guitarist Robert Quine was found dead yesterday, having committed suicide after dealing with depression over his wife's death last August. Quine was born in 1942, studied law in St. Louis in the 60's, passed the Missouri bar in 1969, worked in law for a couple of years before deciding he'd had enough, and eventually landed a job in a New York memorabilia shop where his co-workers happened to be Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine. Hell had just left Television, the band he started with Verlaine, and the Heartbreakers, the band he started with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan (formerly of the New York Dolls). Quine and Hell soon formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and in 1977 they released the LP 'Blank Generation', on which Quine presented guitar playing that influenced most of the early American punk bands. (BTW, that reviewer is wrong about the difficulty of finding that album today: carries it). The band also set punk style for many years to come: Malcolm McLaren encouraged the Sex Pistols to imitate Hell's spiky hair and torn shirts held together with safety pins. Another member of the band was Marc Bell, who would later leave to become Marky Ramone.

Quine's recording career is pretty impressive - he played with Lou Reed, Lydia Lunch, Tom Waits, Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, John Zorn, and a whole bunch of others. If you've ever felt assaulted after listening to any of these artists, Quine's "pain guitar" is probably responsible. He also was a big fan of the Velvet Underground, often bringing a handheld tape-recorder to the shows; some of those recordings were released a few years ago as "Velvet Underground Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes".


As long as the topic is punk music:

Fat Wreck Chords has a lot of good music, including the compilation Rock Against Bush, 26 songs for 6 bucks. (I've still got a flyer from the Rock Against Reagan show I saw in Salt Lake City on my 16th birthday...) They've also got a page where you can download MP3s from about 40 bands.

is a history of the UK punk scene from 1976-79.

Also, check out, a pretty progressive site that is doing a good job of channeling the social awareness of the punk scene.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

it was sixty years ago today

Speaking of D-Day, today is the 60th anniversary of that bloody day.

My thanks and respect to everyone who brought that war to an end. The sacrifices made there are immeasurable... it is my hope that the alliances forged then will survive the depredations of our current misguided administration. Hell, even the now-late Reagan knew the importance of the Atlantic Alliance, acknowledging the role of the British, Canadian, Polish, French, and American troops. (From the movies we get here in the states, you'd get the impression we were the only ones there, that we did it all... I know more than a few people who believe that the US succeeded where all others either failed or fled. Disinformation abounds.)

Quoth the gipper:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation.

Reagan scared the holy fucking hell out of me, and yet he sounds flat-out sane next to Bush. That 'spirit of reconciliation', that we need now more than ever, is anathema to the Bush camp, and our country's honor suffers for it. What happens when we need the help of our old allies (not an unthinkable situation given that we're pissing off like the entire muslim world) and we've burned too many of those bridges?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

no brotherhood, please - we're american

So I've never been very comfortable with the prejudices my country has provided me. This, I suppose, makes me a liberal tree-hugging commie in some eyes, but then again I've never been very comfortable with using such simple words to describe such complex ideas, and I tend to view such usage as indicative of a certain lack of rigor in the mind of the speaker. One thing that has bothered me since I was a child was America's behavior towards France... it seemed ungenerous then, and has become outright hostile in recent years.

I strongly suspect that many Americans who cast derision upon the French ('surrender-monkeys'?) do so to distance themselves from the historical truth, in which light our behavior is seen to be less than honorable. We are quick to recall D-Day, but quicker to forget Yorktown.

From James Breck Perkins' France in the Revolution, written at the turn of the last century:

Among certain statesmen, as among many officers, the desire for reprisals was a potent factor, and the rebellion of the colonies was welcomed, chiefly because they rebelled against England. Among the French people at large it was quite otherwise: the rebellious colonies were popular, not especially because they wanted to throw off an English yoke, but because they wanted to throw off a yoke.

Article II of the treaty provided that "the essential and direct end of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty and independence absolute and unlimited of the said United States." By other articles France pledged herself not to lay down her arms until this independence had been achieved, and, whatever be the delay, cost, or losses, to neither claim nor accept anything for the help thus provided. She even specifically consented that the harshest of the conditions of the 1763 treaty of peace with England be maintained: if conquests were made " in the northern part of America," the conquered land would be annexed to the United States, and not to the country which had settled Canada and possessed it until that peace.

Would France keep her word, and, if success was attained, reserve for herself nothing on a continent two thirds of which had been hers?

She would, and did, keep her word.

This from Bill Moyers, on the history our nations share:

September 19, 2003: We were in France last week. Seven old friends. One more reunion while there's time.

High above the [Marne] valley, on a hill once marked by trenches and shell holes, stands a monument of 24 mighty columns and two heroic-size figures. Their hands are clasped -- a tribute, the inscription tells us, to the French and American troops who fought here, and a lasting symbol of "the friendship and cooperation" between the two countries.

France and America have been allies for a long time now. The sentiment runs deep, despite differences over Iraq today.

In his column this week, The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was tough on the French. He says France is becoming our enemy - trying to foil our policy in the Middle East. But the French aren't alone in thinking America has become the lone ranger of the world.

Last week, even the Financial Times of London - pro-American, pro-business, conservative to the bone - threw up its hands in despair at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. This is, said the lead editorial, a team whose "instinctive and ideological tendency" from the start has been "to regard international consultation and cooperation as a burdensome bore or intolerable constraint." Don't they know, the paper asked, that "alone the U.S. is far more vulnerable than it likes to believe, while in concert with free nations, it is far more powerful than even it can imagine."

This is something to think about on the battlefields of France. You think about the times we've helped each other, and how we still need each other to confront global terrorism. So you want to celebrate our ties, and nurture them. And that's what we did. We found an outdoor restaurant in a small village .and ordered the specialty of the house. French fries. The real thing. French fries. As American as apple pie.

I don't think our current position with France honors the price paid by their country or ours in the quest for liberty. Then again, I'm not so sure America really gives a fuck about liberty anymore... things are getting a little Kafkaesque at the hands of the same people who repeatedly said that "if 9/11 changes our way of life, the terrorists have already won", then turned around and started shredding the constitution. Perhaps someday when we reclaim our own heritage we will remember those who helped us create it in the first place.

Help Wanted

Unemployed? Evil?
The White House is hiring.

Brought to you in stunning Weaselvision

John Dean, who is himself not unfamiliar with political crime, provides some insight into why Bush is seeking private legal counsel in the Valerie Plame grand jury investigation:

Readers may wonder, why is Bush going to an outside counsel, when numerous government attorneys are available to him - for instance, in the White House Counsel's Office?

The answer is that the President has likely been told it would be risky to talk to his White House lawyers, particularly if he knows more than he claims publicly.

Ironically, it was the fair-haired Republican stalwart Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who decimated the attorney-client privilege for government lawyers and their clients.

Starr performed this stellar achievement in his prosecution of the Clintons. This isn't the first time Republican rabidity has bit them on the ass - the line-item veto comes to recent memory. Maybe Bush should listen to Dean on this one... he seemed to have pretty good advice for Condoleezza Rice:

Bill Moyers: If Condoleezza Rice asked you to help her prepare for that testimony, what advice would you give her?

John Dean: Well, I'd say give lots of opinions. Because opinions aren't perjurious.

The scales are in place, stupidity on one side and malice on the other... I wonder which way they're going to tip this time?

humiliating torture is the new black

While the American death machine runs around trying to pin the blame for Abu Ghraib on Someone Else and the majority of American citizens sit around not being outraged about what they've seen in the photos, much of the rest of the world knows the score all too well. Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, has seen much of this sort of behavior before - on the side of the abused.

News of the ill-treatment of prisoners in Iraq created no great surprise in republican Ireland. We have seen and heard it all before. Some of us have even survived that type of treatment. Suggestions that the brutality in Iraq was meted out by a few miscreants aren't even seriously entertained here. We have seen and heard all that before as well. But our experience is that, while individuals may bring a particular impact to their work, they do so within interrogative practices authorised by their superiors.

There is tendency for people to think up justifications for their actions so they don't have to feel bad about committing them. In the US we've made this an art form. No act committed for the nominal cause of freedom and democracy, however far from those ideals it may stray (even to the point of direct opposition), can be thought of as evil, so the papers talk around the sides of the issues and we rewrite even those falsities within minutes, always conveniently finding ourselves guiltless in the final analysis.

I suspect that this won't change until the horrible things are being done more to us than by us. I'd have thought that events of the past few years would have been something of a wakeup call for this country, but in this I was terrible naive. I see my country just begging for tragedy, making new enemies on every front. The future's so bright, it's probably fucking nuclear.

it was forty years ago today

On 5 June 1964 Vocalion Pop released the 45rpm single Liza Jane/Louie, Louie Go Home, by Davie Jones and The King-Bees. It would take awhile for the music scene to notice Davie Jones, by which time he'd changed his name to David Bowie and blown the fucking doors off of rock music. The guy is 57 years old and he's still cranking out the tunes, still more hip than people a third his age... it may look like he's fallen behind a bit, but he's really just so far ahead of the pack that he's almost lapped them. Probably more than once.

I recently played a video game called Omikron in which Bowie is a character; there are three or four bars in the game's virtual world where you can go see Bowie perform songs he wrote for the game. I'm *still* trying to figure out how to extract those songs from the game files so I can add them to my music collection.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

it's the sun and it makes me shine

Flash artist Jakub Dvorsky (about whose Samorost project I've posted before, I think) has just released a new piece called The Quest For The Rest for the band Polyphonic Spree, who have more members than fans - seriously like 20 or 30 people on stage, all wearing long robes, it's like the Flaming Lips hijacked the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The new Flash game features four of their songs, one on each level... it's a little like Myst, just move the mouse around until you see bits you can frob, and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

curses, foiled again

BTW I know the pictures are broken on the old posts... my ISP is changing hands and things are a bit wonky. I'm going to switch them all over to the new service Blogger and provide, as soon as I can get in and get the pics out.

looking ahead, the day you die

When I started my job I thought I was supposed to feel this way:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. - Woodrow Wilson

... but I really ended up feeling this way:

You are not your job. You are not the money in your bank account. You are not the car you drive. You are not how much money is in your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. - Tyler Durden, 'Fight Club'

I got to thinking about these things because Tina just caught a glimpse of one of her possible futures and even though it is more than a bit scary, as I lie here in bed day after day after day after I dream that next time, if there is a next time, I won't be in a cubicle, I won't be in a soulstealing job that adds zero to the world while adding many zeroes to some stockbrokers bank accounts and subtracting days from my life and destroying my health. Such a grim outcome is not necessarily what becomes of the 'ordinary' job, and in my own case the sheer amount and urgency of what I needed to prove to myself was more than a contributing factor, but I suspect that the majority of people have jobs that are at the very least confining and without a doubt they contribute nothing good to the world.

There's so much fear going around... I know so many engineers that sit and take the soulstealing job every day because they think there isn't an alternative. (The picture in my head is like that scene in 'The Dark Crystal' where they take the happy little joyous people and hook them up to the machine that sucks out their essence, leaving a dry and empty husk with lifeless eyes. I know those guys. I am those guys.) When co-workers saw some of the other things I did back when I was healthy, like making musical instruments or art projects, they all asked me "if you can do that, why are you here?"

I wish I had listened to them.

I always thought that all of that 'follow your dreams' stuff was nice work if you could get it, but it turns out that the only difference between us and them is that they just went ahead and did it. Of course, that may also be the only difference between you and the guy that lives in the refrigerator box in your alley, so maybe some discretion is advised.

I once thought that being a hotshot wealthy engineer was my definition of success, and for a few years it was. Next time around, I think I'll be content with a stall at the Saturday Market, or sitting in my home office writing code that does something interesting. Either way, I know now that I'll have to make that decision without fear.

Here's to better days:


roe, roe, roe your vote

Back and forth, back and forth... a federal judge declared Bush's 'Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act' to be unconstitutional, saying a woman's right to choose is paramount. The Bush camp immediately reacted by bitching about the few judges they don't already have in their pockets and calling Kerry a baby killer. Abortion is a complex issue, but it seems to me that a bunch of white guys sitting around making laws telling women what to do is a larger and more pressing issue. Abortion, in whatever form, has always been available to the wealthy - the same people who are making the laws. The irony of these people passing laws that prevent the lower classes from having abortions while cutting back on social welfare and decrying the welfare mother as the source of all evils would be amusing if it wasn't so sickeningly sad.

Clinton vetoed this legislation twice, and it was one of the first things Bush signed while in office, at which time he stated very clearly that the point of the legislation was to get the anti-abortion foot in the door on the way to reversing Roe v Wade. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously overturned a similar ban in Nebraska because it did not allow doctors to perform the operation even if the woman's health was in danger. Compassionate conservatives my ass.

This battle isn't over; it probably will never be over, just swing back and forth with each new president. We give a lot of lip service in this country to the continuity of government that our Constitution and the 'founding fathers' ideals provide, but in truth it's almost like we're a different country every time a new president steps in: old laws are killed, new ones enacted, with new judges enthroned to preserve them. It seems like every step that grants women more power is a tenuous one, bound to disappear when the next election rolls around. It's a byproduct of living in a society that while not actually a theocracy still marches lockstep with the worst of the Judeo-Christian mores while ignoring anything positive those belief systems might have to say.

Anyway, for the moment, there are no 'hooray's here... an abortion is a solemn and serious decision under any circumstance. But, also for the moment, it is a decision that women have more control over. Exercise that power with thoughtfulness and compassion, but go ahead and be a little more ruthless when you exercise your power to vote against the grey-faced assholes who keep legislating women's rights.