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Thursday, November 30, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Today is

Computer Security Day 2000!!!

Sponsored by the ACM, IBM, and lotsa other prestigious organizations, and proudly web-hosted on... a Geocities page? How odd.

In celebration of Computer Security Day, users around the world are shutting their computers off and going out to enjoy the sunshine. Remember: the only secure computer is an off computer!

So anyway, I had a good time yesterday zooming around in airplanes and trying to think like an important person. I shall be reticent about the details, but I picked up a few nice souveniers for M and the kids at the CIA Gift Shop.   *8)   It's impressive how much looser the secret agencies have gotten about themselves over the years; I was rather blown away when I first saw the sister of an ex-neighbor wearing her NSA sweatshirt. Quite a step from "No Such Agency" days.

Someone yesterday told a similar story, relating roughly this conversation at her gym:

X: "Oh, do you work at the CIA?"

Y (suspicious): "Why do you ask??"

X: "Ummm... your T-shirt?"

Y: "Oh! Right..."

On the hotel TV I watched the Cell (Jennifer Lopez explores the mind of a serial killer). My first reaction was that it was just dumb, but (either on deeper consideration, or because I'm trying to be less negative) I'm now willing to say a few nice things about it. It has some moments of great cinematography, a few memorable images. The role isn't incredibly demanding, but Lopez's acting gave me nothing to complain about. The underlying premise has (or had) great promise.

But there are lots of "could have been better"s, things that started up but then petered out, leads not followed up, elements apparently just forgotten.

When the detective guy says that he's certain you could be abused much worse than the villian was, and still grow up never ever wanting to hurt anyone, he's just begging to have that certainty shattered, or at least tested. But it never happens.

When the same detective guy rushes out of the bad guy's psyche (dragging Lopez with him) back to the real world to follow up on a clue he's suddenly sure will lead them to the place the victim is imprisoned, and he gets there only to find the building empty, he really ought to have to dive back into that messy old psyche again to pay for his impetuosity. But instead he just notices the trapdoor in the ground, and he's done.

When Our Heroine goes under in the lab, but then wakes up a moment later, apparently back in the lab, with the people on the other side of the glass telling her there's a power problem, and would she please go open the circuit box because they're locked out, there has to be a terrifying moment when something truly gut-wrenching happens and she realizes that she's really down in the killer's mind. But there isn't; she just turns around and sees herself still lying there in the apparatus, some scary music plays, and she realizes "oh yeah, I must still be in". Gad, what a waste: to do a movie with this premise and not play seriously, even once, with "what is real?".

The movie in fact avoids just about every hard question it gets anywhere near. The innocent little child trapped in the killer's vile mind asks Lopez, indirectly, to kill him and get it over with. "I could never do that," she says. But then a few minutes later, after a rather messy encounter with the bad part of the psyche, she apparently thinks "aww, what the heck", and does exactly that.

Ms. Lopez

More generally, when you have a cool device that lets you go into the twisted mind of a crazed schizophrenic killer, and you position the film as a wild ride into the surreal, you really have to go with that! "The Cell" stops short: there are a few surreal and even disturbing interior sequences, but the movie never really lives there, never really settles down for the Long Count, in the grubby violent psychedelic paranoid wonderland madhouse dripping with blood and echoing with pain. We get a couple of trips into it, and they're once or twice effective, but they're just day-jaunts. The movie would have been better if we'd really camped out there. Or been trapped.

My faith in the Web has been confirmed again: in one scene in "The Cell" (the one scene, by the way, in which the makers fail to resist the temptation to show us uncalled-for amounts of Lopez-skin) the Heroine is watching an extremely cool-looking animation on her TV, and I thought to myself "woo, what is that? have to do a Web search when I get home". Turns out I didn't even have to; while just casually browsing around for reviews of the movie to cite here, I stumbled across this one, which answers exactly my question in a sidebar at the bottom (hm, I guess that's a bottom-bar). It's René Laloux's 'Fantastic Planet' (which is now on the wishlist).

A reader points us at this this interesting Forbes article about Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica and generally brilliant (but possibly deluded) thinker about Cellular Automata and stuff. I've been in love with one-dimensional cellular automata for years myself (see the 1DCA applet on my IBM homepage; click on it to start a new rule running). But I'm doubtful that cellular automata give us a revolutionary new way to think about every field of science, and explain the forms of life better than evolution. So I'll vote in the "Wolfram's kidding himself" column, but I'm fully prepared to be wrong...

And finally, more on Rioting Republicans in Florida (Salon says they were flown in for the occasion, and not Floridians at all).

Tuesday, November 28, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

Nihil est incertius uolgo,
nihil obscurius uoluntate hominum,
nihil fallacius ratione tota comitiorum.

("Nothing is more uncertain than the crowd, nothing more obscure than the will of the people, nothing more fickle than the whole electoral system"; Cicero, 63 BCE; making the rounds.)

Man, stop watching the news for a minute, and look what happens:

This is the most astonishing thing that I have ever read. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a United States Congressman explicitly ordered a gang to attack the offices of an election commission with the express purpose of shutting down the counting of votes in a presidential election.

How else can voting systems work? The Muppets try the Instant Runoff method.

Hm, lots of politics today; my apologies. Everyone else logged this long ago, but I keep looking for it for various reasons so I'll log it here for myself: State electoral map, proportional to electoral votes from Dan Hartung. I'd like to see one proportional to population; the electoral numbers favor the small states of course.

Person or persons unknown have been entering things into the fill-in box in various back issues of the log. Here is a noteworthy selection from the words:

Jeepers. Creepers. Wheredja get those tweezers. Dweezles. Bleemies. Something like that.

Magnets have two poles and no serbs.

There are many ways to remove the skin from a cat. One of the easiest involves a tall building and a barometer. Others include the well-known approach of using the Banach-Tarski paradox to repack the cat into a smaller volume, thus allowing the skin to slip off by itself. Some have reported success with conventional techniques involving pinking shears, but this has never produced satisfactory results for us.

I have registered my web site as a business on UDDI. Am I cool or what?


And a healthy "banabas" to us all! More recent reader input, and maybe the elevator story, and who knows maybe even a Nomic turn, in days / weeks / months to come. Tomorrow, on the other hand, may be entirely silent, as I expect to be Busy...

Monday, November 27, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

This is going to be a rather sparse week, even though (or perhaps because) I feel like there are lots of things I could (and even want to) write about.

Thanksgiving was idyllic, just like last year. We made lots of food (all of which got more or less done more or less on time, and nothing burned), talked to family on the 'phone, ate a big dinner with just the four of us. Went around the table saying things that we were thankful for, and said all the obvious but true stuff about home and each other. Entirely too significant to write much about!

The kids rented Mario Golf. It's amazingly realistic (I'll bet camera-movement algorithms are big and valuable secrets in the video-game industry), and surprisingly fun and playable ("how are they going to simulate golf on a Nintendo 64 controller?" I wondered; but somehow they did). And I got to discover that my Inner Self is a fourteen year old girl with pigtails. Let others take the huge swings of Wario or Bowser; I'll stick with Plum, her extremely straight shots, and her no-nonsense voice.

On roughly the same subject (the vaguely disturbing nature of which has just occurred to me) I had this dream Saturday night (oh no, a dream!) in which I was this reporter or other media type, setting up my equipment and so on to cover some story, and downstairs in the same building Britney Spears was having a concert or a press conference or something, and it turns out that someone had mistakenly gathered up one of my cables and routed it downstairs along with the cables of all the reporters covering the Britney Event.

I was grumblingly disconnecting my cable from the wrong bundle, and someone passing by asked "so you aren't covering the Britney Event?", and I said "of course not, fleh", and this got the attention of this plain-looking but friendly young woman coming up the stairs, and we went somewhere and had coffee, and of course it turned out she was Britney Spears, only without the makeup, and we had a very nice chat about fame, and the influence of music on children, and the responsibilities of celebrity, and that sort of thing. She turned out to be quite intelligent and articulate.

So am I now going to have more positive views of Spears, because of this dream? Does my subconscious have any notion at all that those particular conditionings should be discounted, because it was just a dream? Seems unlikely. (Perhaps this is why dreams want to be forgotten, in general, rather than weblogged.)

From David Mankins, FindSame.com: find pages that are like other pages. I asked it for pages that were like my ABOUT page (I think it was), and besides versions of the same page on variant names of the host it found this great little page on ear candling. I have no clue what an ear candle is, but I like the sound of the phrase. "Ear Candles". Good name for a book of poetry or something...

Computer security stuff: U.S. Department of Defense Guidelines on Mobile Code (by which they mean "should I turn off JavaScript in my browser?"), and another relatively serious Microsoft security bug, this one in the Media Player (no known exploits, but since Media Player is so widely distributed, and the bug potentially lets anyone do anything they want...).

The latter bug rather defuses the former set of guidelines; since bugs in stuff that's already installed on your system can let even theoretically innocuous languages (like VBScript, or even just HTML) do arbitrary things on your computer, it's not as helpful as one might hope to divide the world into "dangerous things that must be turned off" and "safe things that are OK to use". Oh, well!


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