Tuesday, May 31, 2005

don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows

... when you've got David Lynch to tell you.

elementary, my dear: two times two is five


Amnesty International said you have established "a new gulag" of prisons around the world, beyond the reach of the law and decency. I'd like your reaction to that, and also your assessment of how it came to this, that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past -- and what the strategic impact is that in many places of the world, the United States these days, under your leadership, is no longer seen as the good guy.


I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is -- promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

If a highschool student answered an essay question at the same literacy level as Bush's reply, they'd be flunked back into elementary school. Not only does he not answer the question, he also manages to look belligerent and stupid in the process.

As for the 'transparent way' in which allegations are investigated, prisoners there have been denied counsel, held without being charged, threatened with lifetime imprisonment without trial, and there have been documented cases of abuse that seem to violate the Geneva Convention.

If they're guilty, and if our system is fundamentally on the side of good, then established processes of law should resolve the issue without requiring shredding the Constitution. Since this administration seeks to sidestep every provision of due process, this means that either the suspects are not guilty, or something is wrong with our process, or we are not on the side of good. Take your pick.

If you're going to be the bad guy, be the bad guy. Pretending to be the good guy while doing evil is fucking weak.

a new kind of science?

I've just started an experiment that utilizes cellular automata to solve a problem, and looking through my books for some reference materials I found what is probably the most definitive treatment of the subject. Digging through the archives of this site, I find that I've never written about this before, so hey, math. W00t.

When Stephen Wolfram's book A New Kind Of Science came out, I dove right into its 1280 pages and fired up Mathematica to test the programs for myself. My impression then was the same as it is now: there are some interesting aspects of cellular automata (CA's) that defy conventional wisdom about complex systems, but there are only a few small domains to which these formulae can be applied. Once a real-world system gets above a certain level of complexity all of the sciences break down, new and old alike. But Wolfram makes a very long and protracted case for universal applicability of CA's, even going so far as to suggest that the universe itself functions according to simple CA-like rules:

Wolfram's theory that there is a single rule at the heart of everything - a single simple algorithm that, in effect, generates all the rules of physics and everything else - is bound to be one of his most controversial claims...

"I've got to ask you," I say. "How long do you envision this rule of the universe to be?"

"I'm guessing it's really very short."

"Like how long?"

"I don't know. In Mathematica, for example, perhaps three, four lines of code."

How many of you read that and immediately thought "bullshit"? And how many of you that did call bullshit on Wolfram believe that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"? How long do you think 'the Word' is?

Wolfram makes the following point repeatedly: "Whenever a phenomenon is encountered that seems complex it is taken almost for granted that the phenomenon must be the result of some underlying mechanism that is itself complex. But my discovery that simple programs can produce great complexity makes it clear that this is not in fact correct."

In the rarified air of extreme mathematics there are few that could hold their own against Wolfram, so when a couple of wunderkinder like Wolfram and Ray Kurzweil face off it's worth watching, if only to see how the sparks fly. That said, it is interesting to note that Kurzweil does not simply dismiss the book offhand... in fact he agrees with many of the ideas presented by Wolfram. He discusses the issues through to what he sees to be their logical end, then watches as Wolfram careens further outward; whether Wolfram is headed toward higher truths or will soon be chilling with Bobby Fischer remains to be seen.

Whatever the resolution, Wolfram, like Roger Penrose, makes a pretty good argument that our current understanding of how the universe works has limits that won't be surpassed by using our current tools faster or longer... to go forward from where we are, we may need to back up a bit and try a different path. If he's right, there could be some exciting new insights on the horizon. If he's wrong, I've got a 20 pound book for holding things down in a windstorm.

Monday, May 30, 2005

very verne

So this Jules-Vernian space capsule crash lands in Nantes, France...

... and its giant passenger emerges...

... then for reasons unknown to me a giant elephant appears.

It pretty much gets weirder from there...

... as these giant puppets walk around the city...

... assisted by their Lilliputian helpers...

.. who apparently needed to prod the elephant in the bum to get it to move.

Eventually the explorer returned to her spaceship...

... which then blasted her back to wherever she came from.

The elephant stayed here,of course... who ever heard of an elephant in a spaceship? Sheesh.

The whole thing was a part of the Jules Verne centenary being held in Nantes, France. The main picture galleries are here.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

it's finally over

We just watched the new Star Wars flick then came home and watched Episode 4... I thought they did a pretty good job with continuity and managed to tie it all up pretty well. After Jar-jar and the ewoks I was pretty skeptical about this film, but then again we've known for 25 years how it was going to end, and it would be pretty hard for Lucas to fuck it up. (Not that he didn't try.)

"So this is how freedom dies ... to thunderous applause."

The plot line for this movie was written 35 years ago... back then nobody had any idea that the storyline would mirror the current political situation in the US. But the timing is impeccable - as a morality tale that shows how perfectly reasonable decisions can have effects that are exactly opposite of what was intended; how decisions made from fear and hatred only breed more fear and hatred; and how any act can be viewed in completely different ways depending on the mindset of the observer, like that Escher drawing where two people are walking in the same direction on the same set of stairs, but one of them is going up while the other is going down.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

some fucked up monkeys

The monkeys don't want to be monkeys, they want to be something else... but they're not [4.7MB Shockwave flash].

(Thanks, Devin.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

the pleasure of finding things out

Holy McW00t! They finally released a Feynman stamp.

Feynman stamp

Feynman was a brilliant physicist and a pretty good human.

Ralph Leighton has been leading a campaign to get Feynman on a stamp for over a decade. The post office at Caltech has been renamed 'Feynman Station' from May 20 to June 20, and the cancellations from there have been modified to look like Feynman diagrams.

gigantic (a big big love)

We saw the Pixies last night... twice. They played a 6:30pm show that was on par with the show I saw in New York in December, then a 10:30pm show that had a lot more energy, but I mostly liked the first show better... the second show would probably have been better from a hundred yards back, but we were ten feet from the stage in the front corner balcony. Both shows (like most Pixies shows) would have benefited from having Kim's mic turned up a bit, but that's a minor detail - the shows rocked, Frank rocked, perma-grinning Kim rocked.

The crowd was mostly (ahem) 30-somethings in denial, but hey, they're my people.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

maps and legends

Edit: Google Maps released a public API, so this technique doesn't work anymore and isn't needed. Info on the new API can be found here.


I've been playing around with Google Maps a bit, trying to learn how they work. The code is pretty obfuscated, but luckily it cleans up well... I went through renaming variables and functions that I could identify the purpose of, and the rest of it eventually became clear.


Assuming you use a browser that works (sorry Opera and Konqueror and maybe Safari, cool browsers but not too standards compliant), you should see a working Google map above this text. On Firefox it is fully functional: pan and zoom, drag with the mouse, toggle between map and satellite view.

I'm not sure what I am going to do with it yet... I think I may make something similar to Paul Rademacher's HousingMaps, but include access to PortlandMaps, the government database of property, tax, crime, and utilities in Portland. It would be useful for house hunters to be able to see what their property taxes will be and what the crime rate in the neighborhood is like, all on one Google map.

FOLLOWUP: looks like it works in Safari (thanks Tina). There have been some almost random occurences of the XML file not loading correctly, which leaves the map centered over a lake in Kansas instead of Portland... I suspect this is a race condition, the XML file isn't loading in some minimum amount of time so the page loads without it. I'll tweak the code a bit and see what I can come up with.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

dunn dunn dunn dun ta dunnn dun ta dunnn

BobFromAccounting on how Bush is hoping that the comparisons between him and Darth Vader will supercede the comparisons between him and Hitler:

Bush Vader

President Bush is hopeful the recent Darth Vader comparisons he's experienced during the past month will soon overtake previous comparisons to Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and other ruthless dictators known for murder, genocide, torture and oppression.

"The President is hopeful that his image will continue to soften during and after the premiere of the final Star Wars movie," White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said at a press conference Tuesday. "President Bush is well aware that Darth Vader is considered a villain in most parts of the world, but deep inside the robotic exterior of the sadistic leader of the Dark Side, lurks a man who was not only a Jedi warrior but also the object of Natalie Portman's affection. The President can live with that."

Wow, it's all coming together now: Bush is Vader, the Republicans are the Evil Empire, and the Democrats are the fucking ewoks. Yub nub.

freedoms failing

Yesterday a Minnesota court of appeals ruled that the presence of encryption software on your computer can be viewed as evidence of criminal intent.

We find that evidence of appellant's Internet use and the existence of an encryption program on his computer was at least somewhat relevant to the state's case against him," Judge R.A. Randall wrote in an opinion dated May 3.

Now in this specific case, I'm all for using whatever tools necessary to bust the defendant - it's a child pornography case, and if the person is guilty they should nail the fucker to a wall. But making a broad generalization that the use of encryption software implies illegal activity sets a very bad precedent.

The reason cryptographic software is important is precisely because our freedoms are disappearing. The US government has granted itself the power to read your email or tap your phone line without probable cause and without a warrant, dismissing in one fell swoop concepts like 'right to privacy' and 'the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures'. The government can crack ciphers they deem important enough to justify the effort, but with this recent ruling they don't even need to break your cipher to judge you guilty... the fact that you have a cipher at all is a sign of guilt. That's analogous to saying that people who put curtains on their windows must be doing something bad in the house.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

need a hand?

The handbook.

i hate humans

Simon Ng, 12 May, 5:05pm:

... today has been weird, at 3 some guy ringed the bell. I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon...

Simon Ng and Sharon Ng, 12 May, 9:40pm:

The bodies of Sharon Ng, 21, and Simon Ng, 18, were discovered in their bedrooms about 9:40 p.m. Thursday by her boyfriend...

17 May:

Jin Lin, 23, was charged with first-degree murder yesterday in the bloody slayings of Sharon and Simon Ng in their Kew Gardens Hills apartment Thursday, officials said.

Cops zeroed in on Lin, who once dated the woman, because Ng typed a journal entry into his computer fingering his sister's ex-boyfriend as the suspect, police said.


I just found out that I am the one and only result returned by Google for the phrase "free dope and fucking in the street". Yeah, I know that as a literary accomplishment that doesn't place me up with the great writers, but it's still nice to know that I've made some sort of mark on this world.

Monday, May 23, 2005

this isn't a game, it's a treadmill

From pointlesswasteoftime.com: a very well thought-out gamer's manifesto.

Of course there's some innovative design out there, but for every one of those, there seem to be 30 games that are, for instance, set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic future. I understand that lots of game designers remember the futuristic cyborg movies of their childhood. But remember the only reason those films took place in an apocalyptic future is because it was cheaper to film in a burned-out factory than to build actual futuristic sets.

From stupid AI to anomolous wooden crate replication, the article pretty much nails the things that need to change in the gaming industry.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

shine your light love hope

It's interesting that even though Bob Mould's new vocoder-heavy music ('shine your light love hope', 6.2MB MP3) is somewhere between Daft Punk and Cher's 43rd Farewell Tour, you can still hear that edge in his voice that made Hüsker Dü rock. Sorta.

[via Fluxblog via Boblog via Bobmould.com]

Friday, May 20, 2005

US brings freedom to communist lake

When fishermen from the Russian village of Bolotnikovo went to work yesterday, they found a muddy hole where their lake was supposed to be.

Officials in Nizhegorodskaya region, on the Volga river east of Moscow, said water in the lake might have been sucked down into an underground water-course or cave system, but some villagers had more sinister explanations.

"I am thinking, well, America has finally got to us," said one old woman, as she sat on the ground outside her house.

On behalf of my fellow Imperialist lake-stealing swine I'd like to welcome this Russian lake into our coalition of the absurd and apologize to the people of Bolotnikovo Elbonia.

big brother is watching you (eat)

MyFoodPhone is one of the weirdest uses of technology I've heard of in awhile. Dieters use their phone cam to take a picture of what they are eating, and a dietician gives them feedback about the nutritional value of their meal. This implies that people would be thinner if they were more informed about what they are eating... I'd like to think that people would intuitively know that a baker's dozen of Krispy Kreme donuts (plus the two freebies they ate standing in line) is something like 3 months of their US RDA (which is already too high) of sugar and saturated fats, but then again there are people who claim not to know that cigarettes cause cancer. Maybe the system works by making people feel like someone is watching them all of the time. Sure, they can just not send in pics of the bad stuff, but then they are just fucking themselves out of the $150/month fee.

Five bucks a day to have someone tell you that 'Super-size me' will do just that. Sheesh.

I can't help but think that the service might be more effective if the dietician could really give them feedback - they should make those phones have metal handles, so the dietician could zap the would-be donut huffer. Mmm, donutszzzzzztt oww!

increasingly irrelevant

Dave Winer has a long bet with Martin Nisenholtz, the CEO of New York Times Digital: which will be more authoritative in 2007, blogs or the New York Times? Dave is betting that it will be blogs.

There's another fatal flaw in the bigpub approach to journalism, that the reporter doesn't really need to know anything about the topic he or she is covering. If the reader doesn't know the technical details, the writer doesn't need to know either. But when I see the Times cover areas I am expert in, and miss the point completely, I wonder how well they're informing me in areas where I am a neophyte. I'm not from Missouri, I'm from Queens, but I still need to be shown that they are doing their jobs responsibly. I'm not impressed, so I look elsewhere for real news, and soon most other people with minds will too.

My bet with Martin Nisenholtz at the Times says that the tide has turned, and in five years, the publishing world will have changed so thoroughly that informed people will look to amateurs they trust for the information they want.

Personally I think Dave is being charitable... yes, sometimes the mainstream news misses the point. But it seems like more and more often lately they aren't so much failing to hit the point as they are actively creating a different point, one that is more fanciful and untruthful and more likely to rouse the rabble. The 'accidental' lies the news agencies are feeding us are only outnumbered by the 'cat in a tree' stories. They are making themselves increasingly irrelevant - or maybe it just looks that way to those of us in the reality-based community.

I hope Dave is right... I think an informed populace would be a good thing, and first-hand accounts of news items beats the hell out of wag-the-dog headlines. When the tsunami hit I didn't turn on the news - I went to the computer and read the news as it happened, with phone-cam video and very nearly real-time information. I'll take that over sensationalism any day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


25 years ago today, Ian Curtis watched a Werner Herzog film, put Iggy Pop on the record player, and hung himself with a clothesline in the kitchen of his Macclesfield home. He was a few months short of his 24th birthday and a few hours short of hopping on a plane for Joy Division's first US tour. He was the heart and soul of a band that is still influencing musicians 25 years later, despite the fact that Joy Division was and still is relatively unknown in proportion to their influence.

Some of that might change soon if the rumors are true that Jude Law is set to play Ian in a biopic based on Touching From A Distance, the 1996 biography by Ian's widow Deborah Curtis. I feel some trepidation about this upcoming film... the first half of 24 Hour Party People was an excellent portrayal of the band and Factory Records and the cultural context beside which Joy Division stood out in stark, perhaps even harsh, light. They'd have to tread very softly to make a film that painted a picture as true as that one and didn't go about glorifying or martyrizing Ian.

The good news is that the film is going to be directed by Anton Corbijn, who has done amazing photos of a lot of people as well as the brilliant video for Joy Division's 'Atmosphere'.

If any of you have Malcolm McLaren's mashup of Joy Division's 'Love will tear us apart' and Captain & Tenille's 'Love will keep us together', please send it to me. I can't believe it hasn't made the P2P rounds yet, someone's got to have it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

hold, too much

Ummm... I'm at a complete loss on this one. WTF? Who decided *that* was a good idea?

how does your garden grow

If you can't find my house in a week or two, just keep on pushing through the flowers and vines... it's in there somewhere.


to infinity and beyond

What did you do on Saturday? These guys launched a balloon into space. Here's a picture from the onboard digital camera:

There are many more pictures taken by the payload cameras as well as photos of the setup, videos of the action on the ground, and the compulsory litany of doom describing last-minute hacks, near-misses, and a 150KM chase following a balloon they couldn't see and often couldn't maintain radio contact with. Very inspirational, and making me miss the days I spent hanging out with the Portland State Aerospace Society before this illness took over my life.

Monday, May 16, 2005

illuminated multimedia

This month's Grey Lodge Occult Review is a multimedia feast - videos of Robert Anton Wilson's 1990 "The 'I' in the triangle" and 1993 "Temporary Autonomous Zone", audio of Joseph Matheny and Genesis P'Orridge, and text ranging from Antonin Artaud to Marshall McLuhan by way of Alan Watts and Ranier Maria Rilke. They've even got the Oxford History of the Classical World for download in HTML format.

If that's all a bit too much for you, there's always the Manhole covers of the world gallery. Umm... because it's there?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

other people's stories

On the absolute value of feelings.

crouching llama, hidden emu

Learn to dance with Napoleon Dynamite.


JAYZUS. Choo outchyo mine?

I'd hate to be behind this guy in line at the airport.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Talk around the campfire has turned to the clarity of Mexican skies and earlier sightings of satellites, but for the present the whole sky is covered with clouds. A hole opens in the clouds, basically right above us, and stars are visible through it. Paige looks up and says "hey, there's a satellite now". "And there's another one! And another one! And another one!" And then every star in the sky is moving in formation, a battalion of satellites in synchronous slide across the sky, and Paige stumbles backwards as the earth spins out from underneath her feet. From her new vantage point on solid ground it's apparent that the stars are stationary and it is the hole in the clouds that is moving, but for a second there either the whole universe was circling the drain or there was some serious UFO activity over Baja.

I remember being at a place called Big Rock in the mountains outside of SLC and looking up into this perfectly clear sky and the first object my eyes focused on, no brighter than any other thing in the sky, was a satellite... for a moment this one satellite was the only fixed point in the whole universe, and everything else was streaking across the sky. The direction the stars were moving made it seem like the ground was turning out from underneath me on the side where the mountain plummeted down, and I didn't feel like I was standing on the earth, I felt like I was slipping off of it, hanging off of the edge... I dropped and grabbed a large rock and held on until a more useful viewpoint came along. (I don't know why I thought the rock wouldn't fly into space.)

Sometimes it seems like throughout my whole life I've either been actively seeking out a new viewpoint or just holding on for dear life and waiting for a more useful one to come along.

Friday, May 13, 2005

start with this

I went back to read Tom's Stolen post about 5 times before I noticed that the structure is duplicated in the picture to the right. Tom's got a real Radiohead vibe going on... I keep hearing the words to 'Fitter, happier' when I read that post.

outfoxing the web

A year and two days ago I wrote about Google's personalized searching, where Google fine-tunes search results based on a profile of your interests. Yesterday I wrote about the platypus extension for greasemonkey, which lets you remix the contents of webpages to your preferences. I think these are both great technologies that reclaim some of the dynamic nature of the web, enabling you to choose what you see instead of passively absorbing everything as though your computer is just a fancy television. (We can thank AOL for the confusion; they marketed the web as though it was a new TV channel and for millions of people that was their first introduction to the net. A friend asked me the other day "what ever happened to chat rooms?" and I had to think about whether I should bother going into the details of IRC and MUDs and MMORPGs when hand-waving would probably work just as well.)

Outfoxed adds a social dimension to content filtering. You and your trusted (Firefox-using) friends share ratings - this page is good, that page is bad, this other one is dangerous - and these ratings are shown in search results. The important thing is that the overall rating isn't just a measure of what your friends think of a site - it is dependent also on what you think of their opinion, i.e. you get to rate the trustworthiness of your friends ratings.

The project is the implementation of Stan James' masters thesis; he hit all the big buzzwords with this one: meta tags, FOAF communities, and personal search optimization. He even accounted for the possibility that some people won't want to do the legwork of tagging sites: you can import publicly posted ratings, which means that (for instance) if you want to see the web the way Lawrence Lessig sees it, you could point your browser at his ratings list and import it into your own. But given the popularity of sites like Flickr, I don't think sparse tagging is going to be a problem.

There are two caveats that I think are important; one is discussed minimally on the site, the other not at all.

First, regardless of how much you like your friends the odds are very high that at least one of them is a total fucking idiot. Lovable, sure, but maybe not so bright. It's an occupational hazard of being human. If you've got a friend that visits sites that install malware, the problem will sort itself out quickly enough as people learn to not trust that person's recommendations, but you could be the one that gets burned in the interim. Given the recent security holes (on every platform, Macs just got hit with a doozy the day after Tiger was released) that allow Bad Things to happen when you visit websites, this could be a serious mess. On the other hand it's not all that different from every interaction you have with other people... you never know who has cooties.

The second problem is one I addressed in the post from a year ago: limiting all of your searches to things you are already interested in seems like a good way to restrict growth. I'm online a lot because I like learning new things; if every site I went to only reinforced things I already knew, I'd be learning nothing. And groups of people who implicitly restrict their viewpoint to that of other group members are called 'cults', not 'online communities', and individual members are called 'ignorant'. (Except recently there has been a shift, and sometimes those groups are called 'neocons', and induhvidual members might be call 'president'.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

paper, please

Graph paper, that is.

PDF files of many types of graph paper that you you can print yourself. I could have used these in college.

Many grid sizes plus hexagonal
A Smith chart (traumatic just looking at this one)
Logarithmic (log-log and semi-log) and polar
More logarithmic variations here and here

Or roll your own (375KB Windows .exe)


Follow-up to the previous greasemonkey post:

Mark Pilgrim has written an excellent introduction to greasemonkey for people who are just getting started.

Then Scott Turner blew that right out of the water by creating an extension that puts greasemonkey power into your hands without requiring that you write code. The platypus extension for Firefox lets you manipulate any page to look the way you want it to (no ads, move this over here, change this font) and then save your changes as a greasemonkey script. With a little bit of work up front, you can make the pages you visit frequently look the way you want them to all of the time. It's the free-market model for the web: have it your way, a web of your own.

There's only one thing missing to make this bullet-proof: since advertising fuels the web, before long websites will start to counter your new-found freedom to view the web the way you want to by randomizing function names, class names, and IDs, rendering your greasemonkey scripts useless against a moving target. I'm working on an extension that will query databases and update your greasemonkey scripts transparently as the web mutates. Currently I am just having it check the master list of greasemonkey scripts, but in time I think it could develop into something similar to the way Winamp and CDex use freeDB to figure out the names of the songs on your CDs.

If there were more than one script for a specific site, a dialog could pop up to let you click through and see which one works best for you. Your choice would then act as a vote of confidence in that script, and a cookie would be set to remember your choice. If the server was pinged every time you visit a site for which you have a greasemonkey script, this would result in a sort of holographic consensus record that showed which version of the script to use as the default for people who don't already have a cookie set.

Hopefully this would make poisoning the well with bad data a losing situation for the marketers... sure, they can fight it all they want, but they're just going to alienate people who had already declared, in essence, that they are not the target audience the marketers are aiming for.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

papers, please

"Is it going to yield national security or is it going to be hassle for people already complying with the law?"

As expected, the Senate passed the appropriations bill (100-0) and with it instituted a requirement for a national ID card. I think the answer to the question above is pretty obvious... just ask the same question about the federalization of airport workers.

Fortunately some states are asking quesions, although your right to privacy isn't usually the motivating factor... they're all upset that the bill doesn't provide funding with which to take away that right, and it would just be too expensive for them to do it on the state's budget.

I've been reading discussions on both sides of the fence... but truthfully only one side makes sense to me. This bill will not make *anyone* the slightest bit safer. All of the 9/11 hijackers had identification, and for most of them it was valid US ID. The major premise behind a national ID card is that someone from the outside, someone without legitimate papers, is going to do us harm, but nobody with a government-issued ID will be a threat. By requiring people to have a national ID card the government reinforces fear of others without providing the slightest bit of safety.

This bill also calls into question your right to privacy and your right to travel freely around your own country, the latter of which already has one foot in the grave since they took over the airports. The fact that it does this without providing any semblance of security should make us think twice about what the government's real motivation is.

Terrorism, by definition, comes from where you'd least expect it to. Do you think terrorists are going to be stopped by a fucking ID card?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Sometime in the next day or so a supplemental appropriations bill aimed at providing more money for the war on Iraq is expected to breeze through the Senate - it's a "must have", so there's no real need to even debate it. Which might not be so bad if our elected representatives would actually fucking represent us instead of sitting around thinking up nefarious schemes like tacking a mandatory National ID card rider onto this undebated bill. Democrats have pointed out that it might be a good idea to have some discussion before passing a bill that will give us the same identification scheme favored by Communist China and the Third Reich, but the Republican majority squelched any possible debate.

Americans have consistently rejected the idea of a national ID card, and continue to do so despite the high levels of fear this administration continues to cultivate. Bills like this one have been shot down in flames numerous times, so they tacked it onto a bill where if you oppose it you're a freedom-hater and soldiers run out of bullets. This is a fitting way to bring the national ID into being; no sense in giving the people even the illusion of choice if you plan on institutionalizing card-carrying fascism.

I hereby suspend Godwin's Law... we need to be able to talk about what is happening while we still have the right.

Monday, May 09, 2005

blood blog

Jonathan Harker's journals, as well as various letters betweeen he and Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, are being published at Dracula Blogged following the dates in Bram Stoker's original text.

monkey-wrenching the web

If you've seen my greasemonkey scripts but don't know why greasemonkey is such a big deal, check out this page for more info.

When people started writing their own webpages, I thought it was one of the first truly democratic uses of the net. In time, of course, most pages disappeared or were infected by the advertising hordes that claimed the net as their own. Blogs are still mostly independent, but the number of blogs that have advertising on the page is increasing constantly and millions of blogs have been created as link farms to boost someones pagerank; advertisers pissing in the pool again.

I think greasemonkey is the first tool that really lets you view the web the way you want to. RSS came close and is still a useful tool for increasing the signal-to-noise ratio of aggregated sites; greasemonkey lets you increase that ratio for specific sites. Significantly. Some of the user scripts that have been created must have companies saying 'why didn't we think of that?' (Like the script I'm runnning that links movies in my Netflix queue to their pages in the IMDB, and vice versa). Others must have companies wondering how to stop it... and that's the best part: they can't. They can decide what information they are going to put out there, but they can't decide how you are going to view it.

melts into the sea (eventually)

More very cool sand carvings. Each pic links to a different page.

cool sand carvings

cool sand carvings

Sunday, May 08, 2005


It only comes once
and I missed it by a day
just my fucking luck.

Yesterday was Centennial Haiku Day, and I missed it. :(

what a fucking hypocrite

Bush 'honors' fallen soldiers on the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe.

I think he could better honor the memory of the dead by not needlessly adding to their numbers. Or at the very least not continually using the deaths of others as handy photo ops.

you'll pay when the sun comes out

This was just a 'parabolic reflector' when I was a kid, but now it's a Solar Death Ray. I don't think we need to worry about this guy going Dr Evil on us though... he's in Seattle.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

greasemonkey: intellitxt killer

If you frequent tomshardware.com or experts-exchange.com you're probably all too familiar with 'Intellitxt' - those annoying contextual advertising popups that infect the page, like so:


I'm often led to these sites by Google searches for answers to tough problems, and I'm never in the mood for a popup that obscures what I'm reading, and while I understand that these sites are supported by advertising funds I also know that I am so hostile to said advertising that they are never going to get a cent from me anyway, so I might as well enjoy my time there free of ads.

To that end I've written DumbTxt, a greasemonkey script for Firefox that removes Intellitxt popups. Currently the script is set to include 'tomshardware.com/*' and 'experts-exchange.com/*', but on my machine I've changed this to simply '*'... I don't ever want to see those ads, and a few extra cycles during page load is a small price to pay.

As always, if you've got comments or recommendations or complaints, please leave them as comments on this post.


signs, signs, everywhere the signs

If you've read Umberto Eco's books (his Foucault's Pendulum is the story that the 'Da Vinci Code' tripe was poorly based on) you may have noticed that he's listed as a 'Professor of Semiotics'. So what the hell is 'semiotics'? The dictionary says it is 'the theory and study of signs and symbols... comprising semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics'. Like that explains anything. My own personal definition of semiotics is "the thing that makes Jorge Luis Borges' stories interesting", which is only useful if you've read his stuff too.

If you haven't, or if you want to know more, Daniel Chandler provides a good introduction to semiotics in his Semiotics for Beginners.

rips in the clue-time continuum

'Continuity errors' pop up in comics all the time. As stories evolve under the direction of different authors, it often happens that a current fact contradicts a previous one. Sometimes the number of contradictions reaches crisis proportions, and something must be done about them.

DC Comics decided to do something about their loose ends by tying every current storyline into a ball-of-string "Crisis on Infinite Earths". It was as much a marketing ploy as anything else, since it would introduce readers to other characters and storylines they might not already be reading. I think I read one story that got tangled up in this fiasco, and it didn't gain anything from all of the meddling... I just don't feel like someone who reads comics really has much business demanding consistency across storylines. I read the damn things to get away from reality, not to get enmired in the tedium of another.

Anyhoo, that was just an introduction to the concept for people who might not have heard of the "Crisis on Infinite Earths"... which provides the context for the Crisis on US's Earth:

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert spoke of the need for the program. "We have way too many divergent storylines right now: we're 'fiscal conservatives' spending like drunken sailors, we're against their activist judges but for our activist judges, we're for smaller government while presiding over its expansion ... We need to eliminate all the old plot threads, like the notion that Republicans stand for state's rights and whatnot."

Mehlman agreed, especially in regards to the President. "You got your Compassionate Conservative of the 2000 campaign -- the 'Golden Age Bush,' we like to call him; then there's Bush II, the wartime president; and now the modern-age Bush, obsessed with social security and beholden to the Religious Right. We need to hammer down his character and completely relaunch this guy."

Into fucking space. Now there's a fantasy I'd enjoy reading.

Friday, May 06, 2005

black hats

I've had a problem all my life trying to understand what is going on in the minds of people who are obviously doing something evil but seem to believe they are doing something good. There is more 'revolution' than 'evolution' in my thoughts, because I keep returning to older ideas, abandoning them when they again prove unsatisfying.

I think I respect anyone whose walk and talk are in synch - I may not like them, but I respect them. Unrepentant bad guys are at least consistent. It's bad guys who pretend they are good who disgust me... they're too weak to even own up to their own actions. Like this guy:

East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out.

Truly doing God's work there, aren't you Pastor Fucktard? Anyone who has read Christian doctrine and has more than a third-grade reading ability could find a hundred things wrong with this. But this isn't just anybody - he's a pastor, a word that literally means 'shepherd', someone who has set themselves up as an expert on matters spiritual and doctrinal.

He's also just a symptom of a larger disease. Our country is treading on dangerous ground right now, and it's not even interesting dangerous ground - throughout history all tyrannies have been based on fear and fundamentalism. But like Pastor Fucktard, the US has tried to set itself up as an icon of a higher ideal, and this makes our current state that much more deplorable. We can talk the talk, but when it comes down to crunch time leaders of every organization from the federal government down to the Cub Scouts waste no time in turning their back on their supposed ideals.

The worst part of it is related to the news blurb above - shepherds only find occupation where there are sheep that need tending. But I guess it could be argued that if a credo based on personal choice and responsibility has 'followers', something isn't right in the first place.

[via Daily KOS]

Thursday, May 05, 2005

lyrical links

The Bootleg Browser has links to numerous places on the net where you can download bootleg albums. Some are even apparently legal :)

I just listened to Iggy Pop at the NY Ritz, 20 August 1988, and Interpol live @ Lille, 24 November 2004... and there's a lot of music in between.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

oh say can you see...

... any end to this pathetic bullshit pseudo-patriotism? Natalie Dee's observations on a ribbon-based economy.

[via sixdifferentways]

interplanetary razor's edge

Today's APOD is a composite picture from Cassini as it crossed through Saturn's ring plane. Seen edge-on the rings almost disappear, but their shadows, the dark curving stripes in the upper-right quadrant, are very apparent. With my telescope I can see the shadows of the rings on the planet (and vice-versa)... the Cassini Division is almost always visible, and sometimes the Encke Gap is a faint shadow that the scope can't quite resolve.

When I was a kid I would daydream about living on a planet that had rings and/or many moons and/or multiple suns, and imagine the interplay of shadow and light. Of course if we lived on a planet where that was the case, we might daydream about odd undiscovered worlds where the daytime skies are empty and full of light.

he walks the line

Some brilliant investigative reporting: Nine Inch Nails covers Johnny Cash at Coachella. Ok, it was just arcane that Johnny Cash covered the tune in the first place, but how far out of context do you have to be to think he's the one that wrote it? Would somebody please hit that reporter with a clue stick? Thanks.

and now for something completely emo?

Hearing that Bright Eyes played Jay Leno is weird enough, but seeing tremulous Conor Oberst belting out When the President Talks to God on Leno is flat-out freaky... I expect to hear news that Bush is attacking Omaha any minute now. I haven't watched any television in years, but back in my day Leno wasn't known for any liberal, daring, or even thoughtful content.

If you're an iTunes-y sort of person, the song is only available as a free download here.

google date range hack

Update: Google's daterange functionality comes and goes. Right now it goes. :/ What's a brother to do?


It seems like every time I think of some cool feature that I wish Google had, I go check out the Google Cheat Sheet, the advanced operators page, or Section 2.2 of their API reference and I find that lo, they've already implemented it. The ability to filter out 99% of the results and home in on pages I actually wanted to find is great, and most of the operators are fairly intuitive in their application.

With one notable exception: the daterange: operator. Like it sounds, this operator restricts results to those that are between two dates, which is very useful for finding posts related to events in the world outside. The only problem is that the dates must be Julian dates... a computer's-eye view of what the date would be if we still used the Julian calendar. Now this probably makes a lot of sense in terms of search algorithms and Google's file-system, but for humans it's a pain in the ass.

To make this feature easier to use I've written a greasemonkey script for Firefox that injects little calendars into Google's main page. This hack calculates the Julian dates on-the-fly as you click on the calendar, and updates the query string as necessary. Some notes:
  • The initial search interval is set to one year ago.
  • The two calendars are marked "From:" and "To:", but the script will order the query terms correctly regardless of which one is later.
  • I don't check for dates in the future... if you really just can't wait to find out what's going to happen in the future, knock yourself out. Just don't come crying to me if you get busted for looking up the answers to next month's midterms.
  • Similarly if you have the urge to restrict the search to documents that were published in the middle ages, go for it. The only constraint is that you'd be clicking the little arrows like a crackmonkey for hours.
  • The script only injects the calendars on the Google front page. The menu is a moving target on pages that have remarkably few id and class attributes, and I didn't feel like chasing the little bugger down.
  • Like all greasemonkey scripts, this one only works if you have javascript on.

If you improve on this script, have a recommendation, or want to complain about something, please leave a comment on this post.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

thank you, drive through

I've never been able to play games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon... they're like all the icky bits of life and zero of the fun bits, the exact opposite of what I look for in a game. You're basically running a little virtual business, with all that that entails: cranky customers, stuff breaking down, the competition is kicking your ass... sounds like fun, eh?

The bright side is that these games are training a new generation of cut-throat business majors who will have an efficiency level that rivals the Borg. Take little Emma, the Customer Service Assassin, for example:

...as I watched, my little Customer Service Representative used the Guest Summary Window to gauge the happiness level of all of the guests in her park. She then used the Mini-Map to zoom in on a particularly disgruntled fellow standing in line for one of the roller coasters.

She clicked on the Grab tool, picked up the unhappy patron by the scruff of the neck, and carried him over to the small lake that housed the rowboat rentals.

Then, without the slightest pause, she let go. The dissatisfied customer landed in the water with a splash, bobbed on the surface for a few seconds, and then went under.

This kid has seen the business world and come to the contextually accurate if not quite rational conclusion that if your customers get upset, send them to sleep with the fishes. At a time when companies are suing their customers and countries are enforcing economic policies with warfare, skipping all of the marketing mumbo-jumbo and proactively offing disgruntled customers doesn't seem too far off the mark.

There's a lot of irony here... the success of this type of game is partly a reaction to the violence in games like Grand Theft Auto and Doom. Parents who think that carjacking a minivan and running over some hookers is a little extreme have the option of buying games that theoretically have no violence in them, but eventually their little innocent bundle of sunshine finds some way to bring human nature back into the equation.

[via Iron Monkey]

two rules to live by

Rule #1:
Never tell anyone all of your secrets.
Rule #2:

Monday, May 02, 2005

some times you ride the bull...

This past week Apple released the Tiger version of OSX, and the response was as expected: rabid Mac fans foaming at the mouth, rabid Windows users stepping up to defend the OS they spend the rest of the time swearing at, and *nix users (who may or may not belong to one of the preceding groups) quickly pointing out that OSX is really just Unix behind a glittery facade. Personally the whole thing gives me a raging soft-on.

So what is Microsoft doing on the OS front? Longhorn, originally slated for last year, is due out "in the 2006 holiday season" minus some of the (rather fundamental) features the OS is supposed to be based on, like the WinFS file system. They could be using this time to revamp their bloated codebase, but they aren't. They're just going to keep writing crap code and expect you to buy a better machine to make it run at decent speeds. The fact that the recommended hardware doesn't exist yet is apparently a minor issue.

At last year's WinHEC, developer sources said that Microsoft was going to recommend the "average" Longhorn PC feature a dual-core CPU running at 4 to 6GHz; a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM; up to a terabyte of storage; a 1 Gbit built-in, Ethernet-wired port and an 802.11g wireless link; and a graphics processor that runs three times faster than those on the market.

It's a good thing that MS expects Longhorn to be so good that it will be the OS of choice for ten years; it will be that long before the 'average' computer meets those standards. In the meantime Longhorn users will have to contend with bloated slow-running code. But hey, at least MS is trying to make up for that by making Longhorn as difficult to use as it is ugly.

heads... heads... heads...

In a study of 32 random number sources, it was found that pi (whose digits have been long thought to have no internal structural relationships) has less entropy than many software pseudorandom number generators (RNGs). This is really only of interest to cryptographers and number theorists... the study does not imply that pi has structure at any scale, just that under certain circumstances it can be outperformed as an RNG by other processes.

Since the digits of pi have been used as a source of randomness for many cryptographic processes, this discovery falls into the realm of "what if?". What if computers were a million times more powerful than they are now? What if all of the worlds resources were committed to breaking a code? Sound absurd? Bletchley Park's work (which still seems almost impossible) during World War II wasn't that long ago.

Humans are relatively poor at producing randomness, and only slightly better at identifying it. We (and as a result, our creations) tend to see structure where there isn't any, or to miss structure that is actually present. On a long enough time scale, for example, when I've set Winamp to randomly shuffle through a playlist, I shouldn't be all that surprised if it played the same song three times in a row. But subjectively this wouldn't seem 'random', despite the fact that if the process was truly random each song (including the last song played) has an equal chance of being selected to play next.

A coin flipped a few million times would, somewhere in there, have a run of 25 'heads' in a row. In the digits of a truly random process, any possible sequence of numbers will appear at least once... your credit card number, my birthdate, 1234567890, anything. From a cryptographic standpoint, problems arise if such a string of numbers is repeated, especially if that repitition belies some underlying structure.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

rings of saturnalia

Here's a rather detailed article on how to organize a modern sex orgy.

There is some missing information, however, that applies to every good idea, not just orgies:

Step 1:
Run the idea past the women first. If they don't laugh at you or kill you, proceed cautiously to Step 2.
Step 2:
If you can get past Step 1, it almost doesn't matter what Step 2 is.

Ready? GO.

look forward to a future in the past

Next Saturday is The Time Traveler's Convention at MIT. Those MIT guys are probably just trying to reach future versions of themselves so they can find out the answers to upcoming exams. At first I was upset that I wouldn't be able to make it... but then I realized that technically all I need to do is keep myself busy until there are time machines, at which point I can ride one back to next Saturday.

If you're going too, I'm looking backward to having seen you there.

Sound absurd? Then you haven't read Cramer's Interpretation of the Wheeler-Feynman theory, which not only eliminates the paradoxes involved in time travel, it suggests that it's a necessary part of everything going on around us.

The only real conundrum that remains is this: sure we don't have time travel now, but if they have it at any point in the future they could just come back to this time... so where are all the time travelers? My guess is "someplace that doesn't suck". Except for next Saturday, when the answer will be "MIT".

caution, space monkeys at work

I didn't want to bomb the front page with this, so here's a link to a 250KB animated GIF of the changes this site went through from blank page to what you see now. I'd like to make a companion animation that showed the changes in the code simultaneously... though I might have to dip into Flash for something like that, especially if I wanted to add explanations about *why* certain things are done.

hey, you got your alternative methodology in my strategery

Reading over transcripts of April 28's news conference, I'm glad I recently watched '1984' again - it helps to brush up on doublespeak before hearing Bush talk about how the American people don't want the president to do what polls say the American people want the president to do. Michael Kinsley's analysis of the conference gives credit where it is due: the president really is promoting some interesting ideas about privatization of Social Security. That those ideas directly conflict with everything else this administration is doing is only a minor detail... the big question is 'why is Bush taking this on?' Extra credit?

As this column has argued to the point of stupefaction, Bush's privatization ideas are a mathematical fraud. There is no way that allowing people to manage part of the money they put into the system can produce a surplus to supplement their benefits or cushion the shock of the necessary cuts. But if privatization is truly voluntary, it can't do much harm. And if that is Bush's price for being out front on a real solution to the real problem, the Democrats should let him have it.

Unless they are complete morons -- always a possibility -- the Democrats could end up in the best of all worlds. They know in their hearts that Social Security has got to change in some unpleasant way. Bush, for whatever reason, is willing to take this on and to take most of the heat. And all he wants in return is the opportunity to try something that will alienate people from the Republican Party for generations to come.

Kinsley is apparently an optimist. If people haven't been alienated by now, they're obviously not paying attention. And if the plan is predicated on the Dems not being morons, we're pretty much fucked. That reminds me: I hereby release the phrase "we are pretty much fucked" into the public domain. I've got the feeling were going to be needing it more and more in the days to come.

"tomorrow? what makes you think there's going to be a tomorrow? There wasn't one today..." - Bill Murray in Groundhog Day


PostSecret is like grouphug.us with a twist:

You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to PostSecret. Each secret can be a regret, hope, experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything - as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.

The creative aspect is great - you make a 4"x6" postcard on which to write your message, and on the best ones the art really complements the secret. The resulting pieces are beautiful and funny and heartbreaking and terrible. Like life.


new threads

I did a little redecorating around here... what you're currently seeing is semantic markup that validates as XHTML and CSS. I only allowed about 5 hacks to get around bugs in Internet Exploder, a small concession to usability that didn't offend my sensibilities too much. Getting around *all* of the bugs in IE would either triple the size of the code or break it for other browsers.

Known issues: Konqueror renders poorly. (Sorry guys, I tried. K speaks HTML, but it does so in a dialect that is foreign to me.) All generation 4 browsers will have trouble with this page, just as they will with any other page written in the past 5 years. Various browsers (mostly different flavors of IE and Netscape) render the page incorrectly, but it is still readable. Since my goal was to make a template that blogspot users can adapt to their own needs, there were some restrictions such as the inability to use @import high-pass filter rules - I'm keeping all CSS and JS in the template itself. I suspect that anyone who still uses NS4.78 or IEmac5+ is quite accustomed to having the net look like ass anyway.

Firefox and Opera get it right, almost pixel-perfect. I love you guys.

Some of the older pages that relied on specific CSS will be buggy for a few days. There is currently no javascript in the design, so that light/dark/big/little style switcher isn't on the page, nor is the tools menu. I'll bring those back soon.