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Thursday, May 25, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

A very nice summary of the entire history of the Cynthia Stewart case (the mother who was prosecuted for photographing her daughter in the bathtub) in this Cleveland Free Times piece; thanks to the folks in the mouth organ thread for the link (and see that thread for my latest thoughts on the subject).

A reader writes:

currency is the most amazing discussion of all I think, sometimes - does this little box get all this stuff?

To which the answers are "yes", and "yes", as attested by the next two reader comments:

How many people have pointed this out so far? It's the same as the penny saying "one cent" instead of "one penny." A "cent" is a hundredth of a dollar, and a dime is a tenth. "Dime" is from the same root as "decimal." Come to think of it, "quarter dollar" follows the rule too. The nickel is the odd one out.

That's one interpretation, of course, but I don't think it's really that simple. The penny doesn't say "one penny", after all; it says "one cent". And that story about "dime" being from the same root as "decimal": puh-leeeez! That's no doubt what the dictionary wants you to think, but really how plausible is it? Do "dec" and "dim" look all that similar? Trust me, there's something much more sinister going on here!

And speaking of "more" and "sinister", I offer this reader note without comment:

Some newspaper had apparently claimed that there is asbestos in various brands of crayons. On the news this morning, earnest environmentalist were urging us to confiscate all of our kids' crayons and lock them up. Especially dangerous, they said, was airborne asbestos, as might be generated by crayon dust at the bottom of the box, so make sure you lock the box up safely. (No mention, of course, of the quantity of asbestos found, or what concentration might be harmful - another example of Americans failing to understand that, when it comes to quantitative issues, size really does matter). But, taking this at face value, I think we should exercise appropriate caution, and that goes far beyond rounding up all of the Tangerine and Forest Green bits ground into the family room carpet. It's pretty clear that the carpets themselves should be impounded, as everyone knows it's impossible to get *all* of the waxy bits out of them. And we shouldn't stop there. What about the houses themselves? There are probably traces of crayon dust floating around in the air, perhaps Sky Blue smearings behind the dresser in the tyke's room from all those years ago. Let's wrap the houses of anyone who has ever used crayons in those lovely platsic bags that exterminators use or, better yet, encase them in concrete. And the families - we can't forget about the families! Quarantine, obviously, and best to do it in some remote location like Alaska where we can keep an eye on them and their asbestos-spreading ways. That's a good start, but only takes care of half of the problem. Now we go after the princes of evil, the manufacturers of crayons and their running dog suppliers and business partners. I'm seeing every Toys-R-Us turned into a large urban sculpture (hermetically sealed, of course), every truck that might once have carted a colorful box carted off to Alaska (perhaps to use as building material for the large prison we'll have to build there). Finally, we'll have to seal off a large section of eastern Pennsylvania (where the Crayola company has perpetrated their vile crimes). There. That should do it. We'll finally be safe, and it's about time. And hey - we also got rid of Philadelphia as a bonus!

Sun: We're the 'O' in 'Old economy'!

At least two of the eggs in the robin's nest outside the window in the back room have hatched, and we've been watching the grownup bird (birds?) bringing food for the little gaping mouths. It's pretty neat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

So here in the U. S. of A., the unit of money is the dollar. Fractional dollars are expressed in cents; a cent is one one-hundredth of a dollar. The units of physical currency we use to represent this money have different names: the penny is one cent, the nickel five, the dime ten, the quarter twenty-five (one quarter dollar), the dollar bill one dollar, and so on.

For the most part, the markings on the currency confirm this simple model: the penny says "one cent", the nickel says "five cents", the quarter says "quarter dollar", the paper money says how many dollars it's worth. But there's one anomaly.

the mysterious dime

The dime says "one dime".

Well, duh! I know it's a dime, I want to know how much it's worth!

We all assume that a dime is worth ten cents, one-tenth of a dollar, but how do we know? Maybe a "dime" is the fundamental unit of some other monetary system entirely. A monetary system, perhaps, in which we could buy other sorts of things entirely, if only we knew the address of the right shop.

"Self-respect? That'll be five thousand dimes. Requited love? Special this week, only eight thousand dimes." Maybe not; but I'm considering saving up my dimes, just in case...

"Marta Mitchell, a native Nantucketer, was awarded a gold medal by the King of Denmark for discovering a comet."

From Alamut, an interesting (if horribly formatted) page on evidence that our consciousnesses aren't nearly as in control of stuff as we might think:

Some twenty years ago German neuro-physiologists discovered that prior to physical movements gradual shifts in the electrical potentials appeared in the brain. But another shift called a readiness potential brain wave, happens before voluntary self-willed action. It begins to appear from about half a second to up to three seconds before the beginning of a movement. These waves only occur before consciously willed movements that are not before reflexive actions such as pulling away from a painful stimulus. So one whole second or more before you move, your brain is already preparing to move even when the action is spontaneous.

See also "The Volitional Brain", a book I really ought to read; and the "How does consciousness effect the physical world?" page in POC.

Those responsible Canadians! A recent thread in mouth organ discusses the findings of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council on the topic of the regrettable Laura Schlessinger. The decision itself is here, and definitely worth reading. There are all sorts of interesting issues about censorship and freedom of speech and the role of government and private industry associations and stuff like that, as well as the differences between US and Canadian ideas of freedom of expression (many of them are touched on in the mouth organ thread). See also the list of CBSC decisions, including one about violence and the Power Rangers.

I think I prefer the USian version of freedom of speech to the Canadian one; still, it's nice to see the various things being tried out.

Camworld linked to the audio of this, and I'm sure it's all over the blogs by now, but still: looooooong radio piece on weblogging, including interviews with various of the Leading Lights. I admit I only listened to about half it it!   *8)

And finally from geegaw, a big archive of Communist art:

Of course the image these posters give is not impartial. They are the official propaganda of communist regimes, reality behind them was often quite another story. But above all, these posters are a feast to the eye.

Of the ones I've looked at, I particularly like Little Guests in the Moon Palace and What the October revolution has given to working and peasant women. Can I buy copies? Or would that be too tacky for words?

Tuesday, May 23, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

After the initial shock, when his heart is beating again and the rushing Armageddon silent again in his ears, Karl sits for a long time, staring. There, in twelve-foot-high bright orange letters, the words he'd promised would never appear on campus again: "Have you accepted Bugs Bunny as your personal savior?"

Ludmilla will be furious.

Brief rant on boring old security in boring old Windows: if you're an oldschool user, or if reading about the latest Windows worms convinced you that having the operating system hide important stuff from you is a bad idea, you've probably gone into "My Computer / View / Options / View" and unchecked the pernicious "Hide MS-DOS file extensions for file types that are registered" box. It turns out that that's not actually enough: in its usual condescending style, Windows assumes that you didn't really mean it, not all the time.

Various extensions have a "NeverShowExt" key associated with them in the Registry, and those extensions are never shown in the GUI, even once you've unchecked the "hide extensions" box. The extensions that are marked this way include LNK, PIF, and URL. So if someone sends you an evil README.TXT.PIF in email, and you use an email client that does what Windows tells it, you'll be told that the attached file is "README.TXT", and you may be fooled into clicking it. Sigh! You can use RegEdit to remove (or just rename) the NeverShowExt keys (see for instance these brief instructions); the only disadvantage is that things like shortcuts on your desktop will now have ugly little ".lnk"s or whatever after their names. Probably a small price to pay.

A reader points out that "soft toss" (from the sign yesterday) is probably a reference to a style of batting practice where one person tosses the ball softly into the air and the other person hits it with a bat. One does this against a fence so as not to have to go very far to retrieve the ball. Sign explained! (Seems odd to single out "soft toss", though; presumably hitting the ball into the fence in any other way is also discouraged?)

From Metafilter, the Supremes strike another provision of the Communication Decency Act. Hip hip hooray! Let's hear it for the Supreme Court!

Briefly noted:

Ribbit, ribbit!

Monday, May 22, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

I badged my way in at the back door of the lab this morning and looked casually back at the guy following me in, and he held up his badge to reassure me, and smiled, and said "For a minute there I thought you were carrying a magnetic flashlight!".

I grinned and chuckled, but despite having puzzled about it all the way up to my office here I haven't the slightest notion what he meant. Magnetic flashlight?

All I was carrying was the laptop case over my shoulder, and even if I had had something that might have looked like a magnetic flashlight, why would that have been amusing? I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here...

Continuing the Oddities theme, when we were in Boston visiting relatives the other week, we took the kids to a local park and playground, and on one of the fences there was a big square official-looking white-on-green sign that said


I pointed it out to the party, and no one else could work out what it might mean, either. The obvious implication is that if you want to toss something against one of the fences, you should toss it hard. But that seems unlikely! Maybe there's a local game called "soft toss" that kids keep playing against the fences, and the sign is telling them not to? That seems barely plausible, but only barely.

a picture that might actually be of me

Geegaw's tweaked the design to include a picture that might actually be of geegaw herself! Or maybe not; I dunno.

Sunday, May 21, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

One, two, skip a few
Three, four, skip some more...

So I took the little boy to the birthday party of one of his friends, at one of the local gymnastics barns. At one point the instructor and her helper put a bunch of hula hoops in a circle on the ground, one less than the number of kids, and put on some music, and started marching around the outside of the circle, with the kids (four and five and six year olds) bouncing along behind. Then the music stopped, and the kids scrambled for the hoops.

When the confusion settled, a couple of the hoops were empty, some of them had one kid, a couple had two kids, and one had three kids.

The instructor stood there for a second sort of looking at them. It's possible that this is exactly what she expected, and this version of Musical Hoops isn't intended to be a strictly one-kid-per-hoop, you're-out sort of thing. But for some reason I like to think that she was dumbfounded for at least a second or two by this wonderful lack of assumption on the part of her charges.

(She took away the empty hoops and started the music and the marching again. At the very end there were just two hoops left, with five kids and the instructor squeezed into one, and six kids giggling and almost falling down in the other. Then everyone clapped and the game was over; no one had to be Out. I liked that, too.)

This happened on Sunday, but I'm posting it on Monday. Naughty me!

Friday, May 19, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Yeah, there's a new virus out, but it's not a Huge New Thing, and it's not clear why the media are so het-up about it. See the SARC writeup for details. Continue not opening unexpected attachments. Maybe even think about turning off the scripting host; that will only help against some viruses, it could potentially break some stuff, but hey...

The suppression of dissent is in many circumstances a perfectly proper government activity. When the government is legitimately persuing a given goal, there is a straightforward cost-benefit calculation: how much harm will the dissent do to the effort, how likely is it that the dissenters will raise valid points that help further the goal, and how much will it cost to suppress the dissent. It is not always possible to calculate these factors reliably, but when it is, and when the result supports it, suppressing the dissent is clearly justified. There are no deep issues here.

-- What's Wrong with this Picture

Speaking of cartoony art, see Fitch Comics (home of Kentucky the Absent-Minded Plank), and ExplodingDog.

The nice violent thunderstorm last night caused a power glitch at the club, and that crashed the NetPulse net-connected consoles. Which wouldn't be a big deal (can't surf while exercising, shucks!), but it turns out that the dozen or so devices fitted with those consoles are useless when the system is down: not only can you not surf, you can't even pedal the bike. So the old-fashioned Web-less devices were in high demand. Another lesson in not over-computerizing stuff. I just hope they stay out of the locker room! ("We're sorry, but the system crashed while you were in the pool; please come back for your clothes tomorrow.")

A security issue that probably doesn't impact you, but is kinda fun and/or sobering to read about: Standard & Poors security nightmare.

From rebeccablood, this breaking news: Internet Almost Out of URLs.



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