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Thursday, May 18, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Dear Friend:

You'd rather not stay at the most popular hotel...

You'd prefer not to dine at the best known restaurant...

You'd rather not vacation where the crowds are flocking...

You're just different, aren't you? Unlike the multitude, you want your journeys to be a reflection of you. Why? Because you lead a life worth expressing -- even in the way you travel!

Now is it just me, or is this the most transparent smarmy repulsive h-rseshit you've ever read in your life? Usually I throw away obvious junkmail, but I read this one on a whim, and I've got to say I was impressed. If they wanted to make the point that their target audience consists of smug stupid people who are easily flattered and have more money than sense, they sure succeeded! Sheesh.

I mean, the wierd thing is that if they'd put essentially the same stuff in different words, it might have appealed to me. But my God...

I know, I know, I shouldn't exactly be surprised to find junk in junk-mail. I was just so impressed with this one that I couldn't resist sharing! I'm sure you're grateful (the culprit, by the way, was National Geographic Traveler, which is a magazine or something, and for all I know a very good one that just hired a horrific ad agency).

Soapstone, eh?

Speaking of sharing I've scanned in (well, actually Janet was kind enough to scan in, since her computer has a scanner and she knows how to use it) a bunch of little oddities that I drew at lunch the other day. I churn these out pretty regularly, and usually just leave them lying around for the amusement of fellow diners and/or the cleaning staff, but well today's your lucky day!   *8) They're in a new Ballpoint Gallery off of the pictures page.

Notes from Elsewhere: Paul Ford has decided to do things other than ftrain for awhile, which is sad for ftrain but good news for whatever else he decides to do; and Catherine has started a Weblog, which is extremely cool (with the humanity and intelligence she shows in her journals, I expect she'll recommend good links as well).

Randomly Googling for extreme serenity, I came across Even More Than Pointy Ozalp Could Rationally Deal With Himself. After enjoying it for awhile, you can find a bit of an explanation at A Frenzied Collection of Story Manglings. Seems like the sort of thing that could be Webified, although it might taste different (will I now be deluged with URLs where it's already been done?).

Wednesday, May 17, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

(Some links, and a final(!) Nomic round, after the rambling.)

So what are you about? What do you live for? Is there something large you want to do in the world, some result you want to accomplish, some overarching goal you want to move forward? Or do you live more in the moment, for the slow but steady drip of small pleasures, individual satisfactions, from the world into your mind?

I am, I think, in the latter condition, living in a satisfying bath of small pleasures and accomplishments, good food, cool wind, the smiles (and even the tears) of my children, M's breathing as she sleeps beside me, the house slowly being paid for, Dad buying a dulcimer. There's no distant goal-line I'm striving toward. Is that a problem?

I remember in my youth lying with a lovely woman in a piece of stillness, and saying "The world can end now." She objected. But she married me anyway.

I'm deep in an interesting email discussion about science and religion and the origin of life, and in the last email from my correspondent, he wrote

"In the long run it only matters if there is a God. In the long run, only the scenarios in which we have an existence after physical death are worthy of much consideration."

I find myself unable to grok the feeling he expresses there, unable to understand it in other than an intellectual sense. Why would my loved ones' happiness, my personal pleasure, the doing of good deeds, matter only if I will continue to live after death? I don't get the connection. I'll ask him about it, of course, but I'm grateful that he said it, if only because it got me thinking about this other stuff.

If there is one thing that I'd like to do, something that might look vaguely like a goal line, it's to take part at some level in the Great Conversation, the incessant discussion back and forth about everything and anything that humanity does so well. I love being immersed in that conversation, and I'd love to feel that I'd contributed something significant to it. It'd be great if something that I'd created were still being read (or listened to, or looked at, although those seem even less likely!) five years, or ten years, or a generation after I die. That'd be really neat.

But I don't think I'll be terribly upset if it doesn't happen. After all, you're reading this, so in the most important sense I'm there already.   *8)

The Serbian government are not nice people.

United Press International is now owned by Sun Myung Moon (more or less), and this has already led to resignations at UPI. I suspect that news filtered by religious nutters would be even worse than news filtered by corporate hacks.

On the Artist Once Again Known as Prince a reader writes:

Soapstone, eh?

It seems that the artist formerly known as Prince (otherwise known as "<insert squiggly character here>") has changed his name back to Prince. This seems like a cheat to me. Having started with a name that was both auditory and visual, then switched to a name that was entirely visual, I think he should explore the other senses. I was thinking of suggesting to him that he change his name to one that is auditory and olfactory. Yes, I do have one in mind; I'm sure you can guess it. There are certain problems with this, such as the inability to represent his name in print media but no more so, I think, that those presented by his use of a squiggly character unavailable in any rational font set. I was thinking that the print media could use a scratch and sniff strip. So the annoucement in Variety would go something like: "The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince will now be known as <scratch and sniff strip goes here>." Although if you told me that his new name would be much funnier on radio and TV, I would have to agree.

Nomic: I'm ignoring one move that contained no "g" (Rule 86) and one that seemed to be simply stating a truth rather than suggesting a Rule change or a Mapping Change. I'm applying:

proposal = Every rule resulting from the posting by the scribe of a valid move shall have one exception. The one exception to the rule associated with this valid move is itself, as it has no exception. g.
name = bovine
integer = 531

because of its very nice perversity. It might have been kinda tough to enforce in the future, but since upon my applying it the entity "bovine" has 37 points, then by Rule 12 the game ends!


Congratulations to bovine (who didn't actually win the game, since "win" was never defined, but he was Champion and Poobah at the end), and thanks to everyone who played. The entire history of the game is now on the archive page. I'm also thinking about starting up another game; see the main Nomic page for details. (I may post some draft initial rules, based on some of Game One's final rules, there in the near-to-middling future; suggestions along those lines are more than welcome!)

Tuesday, May 16, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

We noticed at lunch today that "philanthropist" and "philanderer" are from exactly the same roots. Just so you know.

I read, in relatively short order, Vacuum Flowers and Bloom. Both pretty good hard SF, both on the same theme: Earth (at least) is taken over by replicators of one kind or another, independent humans survive on other bodies in the solar system, an expedition is launched for whatever reason back to(wards) Earth, things are discovered about the replicators. Interesting to read them together, in a sort of theme-and-variations way.

Lots of random techie notes today.

Microsoft has announced that they are going to release patches to Outlook that would prevent attacks like the LoveLetter worm. The patches are quite draconian (basically, you can no longer use Outlook to send attachments with certain extensions, and anything trying to script Outlook will cause unavoidable popups). If I were paranoid, I'd say that MS is issuing these so that they can say "we made a fix available for the problem", knowing full well that the fix is so annoying that hardly anyone will apply it. I guess the test will be whether the next release of Outlook includes it, or if remains an optional downloadable thing. (A better solution would be to have an actual security model and security-policy enforcement in the operating system, rather than applying random band-aids here and there.)

Here's the Microsoft page on the patches, and a BusinessWeek article on the subject. The latter has a very nice quote from a Microsoftie; hope we can believe it!

These changes represent an important philosophical shift by Microsoft. "From this point forward," says Sinofsky, "security is the top design point for Office, even if it means less flexibility."

Just to give equal time to non-MS security holes, Peacefire reports a nasty little trick in Eudora.

Programs are speech and therefore generally protected by the first amendment:

The Supreme Court has expressed the versatile scope of the First Amendment by labeling as "unquestionably shielded" the artwork of Jackson Pollack, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, or the Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll... Though unquestionably expressive, these things identified by the Court are not traditional speech. Particularly, a musical score cannot be read by the majority of the public but can be used as a means of communication among musicians. Likewise, computer source code, though unintelligible to many, is the preferred method of communication among computer programers.

I'd been vaguely looking for a copy of this report on the external net, and today I found it linked from Ed's: a cool paper on Graph Structure in the Web.

The study of the web as a graph is not only fascinating in its own right, but also yields valuable insight into web algorithms for crawling, searching and community discovery, and the sociological phenomena which characterize its evolution. We report on experiments on local and global properties of the web graph using two Altavista crawls each with over 200M pages and 1.5 billion links. Our study indicates that the macroscopic structure of the web is considerably more intricate than suggested by earlier experiments on a smaller scale.

A new issue of Crypto-gram with the usual good stuff, as well as some very interesting links.

The upshot of this is that the marketplace does not reward real security. Real security is harder, slower, and more expensive, both to design and to implement. Since the buying public has no way to differentiate real security from bad security, the way to win in this marketplace is to design software that is as insecure as you can possibly get away with.

And finally in food news, tofu is bad for you, and animal fat is good. Well, sometimes.   *8)

Monday, May 15, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

For Mother's Day we went to Cold Spring and ate at the Depot. The service was even slower than usual (hard to believe), but we were outside, and the weather and passing trains and general ambience made up for it. The group at the next table was chattering away in what sounded like some dialect of French, when suddenly one of them said quite loudly "business opportunity!", and the others all laughed.

Business Opportunity!

New Notes and Recommendations from Phil Agre; worth reading as always. Yeah, he may be a little off the deep end wrt the evils of Microsoft and the conservative mind-set and the lizard brain. On the other hand, he may not be. Also, more notes on eBay, systems analysis and design, and more books to read.

Synthetic religions: Mike Gunerloy of LarkFarm used the words "karass" and "granfalloon" on one of the Weblogs lists, and that reminded me of the religion in Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle", and I did the obvious Google search and came up with this very nice page reconstructing the most important texts of Bokononism.

God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.

Nosing around Mike's site a bit, I found that he also has a Journal about life as a hacker living on a farm. I personally am greenish with envy.

I let the turkeys out to their little yard for the first time today. They had great fun roaming around in grass that's taller than they are. I still have to finish fencing a larger run for when they're full-grown, but for now, this little chunk of land will at least let them get some sun and breeze. They seem to have toughened up quickly, already not needing the brooder for any but the coldest nights.

Here in the suburbs, a pairs of robins (American robins, of course, not those tiny English ones) have built a nest in the wisteria right outside one of the back room windows. We try to be relatively quiet back there, but so far they don't seem to be disturbed by our moving around. From the sitting-behavior, I suspect there are eggs, but I haven't wanted to climb up the back of the couch and push my nose against the glass and look.

A reader reminds me about noses; indeed! In response to last week's box, we have a number of nose-like replies:

Her nose.

one that I try to keep straight and on the front of my face.

Mine: Not as big as I used to think it was, with a freshly healed piercing. His: Sharp and straight and perfect. Theirs: Tiny and moist, one pink and one black, both leaving little triangular spots on the windowpanes.

A nose cone. Painted. Not any specific color. Perhaps with some sticks of incense sticking out the nostrils. Or perhaps not.

Long and sanguine. Or perhaps, upon reflection, it would be better to say Roman, with a twist.

A fortuitous nose at best. Always the best kind, those.

A horse nose. Or the soft pink nose of a cute little kitten sniffing and burrowing it's nose into your neck as you sleep.


Mine is like a monkey cage. The bodies run about, hither and thither through the mucous membrane. SCHLUSS, I say! Snorting nasally through the hairs and protective coatings. It is a very nice nose.

Microsoft does it again! Read the initial report about the latest hole whereby anyone with a Web page can make your computer do anything they want (if you're running Office 2000 and IE), and see the Microsoft security bulletin for the fix. Memo to Microsoft: you know all those controls you have marked as "safe for scripting, don't bother warning the user if some untrusted Web pages wants to invoke me"? Maybe you should check them to make sure it's really true, rather than waiting for "DilDog" to get around to doing it for you. Sheesh...

On a more cosmic note, from gorjuss, cosmologist Max Tegmark's Theory of Everything. The Anthropic Principle applied to everything (not merely this one particular universe). Cool; I like it.

Friday, May 12, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

It's a small Web: Idly browsing around by searching on odd pairs of words, I asked Google to look for "zen striptease". The best result was a copy of Eco's "Socratic Strip" (Eco's such a memorable loon). Nearby are some stories by Borges, Calvino, Kafka; just the sort of folks I've been talking about the last few days (no Barthelme, though).

It's a small universe: so I went upstairs to the library and found my copy of Borges' Collected Fictions. It has a bookmark in it, reflecting where my mind last tired out, and sure enough there was the "On Exactitude in Science" fragment (see last week), on the very next page after the bookmark!

The group at work recently got a "Night on the Town" award for a successful project-completion: a certain sum of money that you have to spend on basically one event sometime within six months. M and I decided to take the kids into The City and see "Cats" at the Winter Garden Theater (very much not something we'd ordinarily do; we get into the city maybe twice a year). But we waited too long, and all the matinées until June (when the show was closing) were sold out! We were Sad.

I told this story to a friend this morning, and he said he'd just heard on the radio that the run had been extended until September! So I quick-like-a-something called M to get our schedule, and called Telecharge, and now we've got four seats right up front, on a Saturday in July. The Goddess is kind...

I have these great (slightly scratchy, nicely absorbent) linen towels that M got me for Christmas from J. Peterman. Peterman went bankrupt shortly after (although they seem to have been reincarnated after being bought by the Paul Harris chain). Peterman was the next best thing to the old Banana Republic back before they got bought by the (evil) Gap, dropped the "rough and ready" theme, and became a boring preppy-clothes store. There must just not be enough people like me in the world; stores I like don't thrive (Levenger had better look out!).

Speaking of the old Banana Republic, does anyone know the names (and/or the URL) of the enterprising couple that started it, before the Gap bought it?

I'd like to look them up and see if they're still doing interesting stuff.

Peacefire reports a security bug in Internet Explorer that allows any Web page to steal any known cookie from a browser; looks like the URL parsing in the JavaScript interpreter is inconsistent with that in the browser proper. It'll be easy to fix, but it's yet another lesson in how hard it is to do this stuff right, and in how every bug matters when you're talking to the Net.

The Peacefire site in general is pretty cool. "It's not a crime to be smarter than your parents."


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