log (2001/01/26 to 2001/02/01)

older log
newer log


site news

A good book:
Thursday, February 1, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Talk about validation! A couple of people called me yesterday to draw my attention to a click-ad on the New York Times editorial page (if the Times wants a username and password, "fubar" for both sometimes works). I had to reload the page a couple of times to see it (there are three versions of the relevant ad, served at random), but there it was: a big red ad for TomPaine.com with two blurbs from well-known opinion makers. "blistering..." from The Weekly News (whoever they are), and "eloquent..." from David Chess (whoever he is). (The ad's still there this morning, but in case it goes away I've saved this screenshot for posterity.)

So bloggers be warned! If you say something nice about a site, they may quote you and mention your name in an ad in the bl--ding New York Times. Sheesh! More fame. (The sources quoted in the other ads in that rotation are Forbes.com and Arianna Huffington, both of course good buddies of mine.)

But enough about me (didn't I just say that?).

Ray Davis sends another entry for the Vasty Houses list:

Among my lit'ry sf crowd, the favored infinite house book is likely _Little, Big_ by John Crowley. There's a nice intro at strangewords.com.

Thanks, it's now on the list! It's also out of print, so how shall I get my hands on a copy? Will it require effort? I've now ordered House of Leaves from Amazon, and am looking forward to the nightmarish crawling horror that many of you have described so eloquently.

all this talk about infinite houses -- bovine inversus surely seems to be displaying an infinate house of some type or another on his webpage over the last month or so, judging from the pictures the floorplan just doesn't add up! I think he's getting sneaky on us, wouldn't be the first time!

A vast house that is read: the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. It was built by the widow of the guy who made the Winchester rifle. He was rich as sin; she his loony kin. A mystic told her that God would not take her if she was still in the middle of a project. So she devised her own recipe for immortality: always have a home construction project going. While the trade-off would definitely not be worth it for me, she threw herself (and her hubby's money) into it with a passion. Their house grew and grew and, as the sensible projects all got done, the house became stranger and stranger. There are doors that open onto walls, staircases that end in the ceiling, etc. etc. Quite a sight, and one of the many famous tourist traps that littered the California coastline in my youth.

Rich as sin, loony kin; rich as sin, loony kin! M's mentioned this place to me a few times, from the California stage of her childhood. It does sound pretty cool (if somewhat tourist-riddled? or perhaps that's part of the charm (or "charm")).

On both books and coffee, a reader writes:

Oh, no, not coffee! Well, now you must read Memoirs From an Antproof Case. Mark Helprin.

It's funny: I really loved "Winter's Tale" (a wonderfully surreal novel) as well as the two short story collections "Ellis Island and other stories" and "A Dove of the East". (See my ancient review of the former.) But for some reason the buzz on Antproof Case didn't make it appealing to me. I'd probably enjoy it if could get over whatever odd potential barrier I've developed against it.

Another reader writes:

Chala u'ka, te ole, chala u'ka me one.

which can't possibly mean anything, because I can't find it in Google.

The lovely and talented Gretchen Lieberum writes with good news for her eager fans:

So, I'm just putting the finishing touches on my new album, tentatively titled "As You Wander This World"...... my web-page should be up and running soon as well....... so, I'll have some new songs up on mp3.com as soon as possible!

By the way, for those of few in the Los Angeles area, I'm playing a show at The House Of Blues, Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 19th. Ozomatli will be playing as well!

I pass this along for those of you in LA.

Crackle, boom!

Mischief, explosions, danger! Yeah, there are several of these on the Web, but these guys seem particularly insouciant pyromaniacs (and I'm really glad I don't live in their apartment building). Also, they have a cool animated link-button gif. *8)

How to start your own web-radio station (from a very lefty point of view, but the basic information presumably applies even if you're something else).

I haven't linked any "Ginger" things, because I thought it was silly in the non-amusing sense of the word, but now I see that there's an Amazon page on it, and that's amusing and/or interesting. "Pros: Can be assembled in 10 minutes. Cons: You don't know what it is."

From OrbitalWorks, the NEIC's Near Real Time Earthquake List. Very cool. "CLICK ON AN EARTHQUAKE BELOW FOR MORE INFORMATION."

And in a boring serious political note, I have to say that although I've been hard on the Shrub and John Ashcroft and all them types, I also have only hearty raspberries for outgoing President Clinton and his Magic Bag of Undeserved Pardons. What the heck was he thinking? Roughly the same thing he was thinking when he developed an interest in Ms. Lewinsky, I suppose. Phhhhhtttt! A pox on both their houses, and all.

Next week: more good books, and maybe even a round of Nomic ("yeah, sure," I hear you mutter).

Wednesday, January 31, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

The orbital mind control lasers have finally got my frequency: I've begun drinking coffee!

I mean sure I've always had a cup now and then, once or twice a month, at church (as a lad) or at the Diner with the family on Saturday morning. Then I started putting a splash of the stuff into my usual hot chocolate, "just for variety". Then I started getting the "Mocha cappucino" or whatever it is from the "Gulliver's Coffee Company" area at the Gas 'n' Go after filling up the car. And now I find myself mixing hot chocolate and coffee and half 'n' half at the bagel store on Sundays.

Where will it end!? Will I be one of those people who innocently declare that they Just Can't Get Started in the Morning Without the Cup o' Joe? A caffeine addict?


Speaking of the orbital mind-control lasers, I have to caution my readers against the stichomancy site I so innocently linked to yesterday. Consider: I typed in "Where did all this come from?" and got a meditation on the compatibility of the theory of evolution with Anglican doctrine. I typed in "What's the most important thing?" and got the bit of Mark Twain's "Extracts From Adam's Diary" where he first encounters a baby. Then, just to ask something odd, I typed in "How hungry are you?", and I got a fragment from the native American legend of Iya the Camp-eater, a supernatural being that would swallow entire camps: people, dogs, teepees, and all. Yipes!

So this stichomancy stuff is obviously a channel to Satan or Yog-Sothoth or someone equally unpleasant (or at least very hungry), and should probably be avoided. (Although it's comforting to note that being eaten by Iya doesn't seem to be especially fatal.)

I am a mighty warrior, and the envy of all small children! For Lo, I have defeated the subterranian lava dragon Volvagia, and freed the Gorons!


(Turns out that the secret is to wait until it's come up out of one of its holes and done the "sweep the ground with the flaming ponytail" thing, and only then rush up and bop it in the nose with the Megaton Hammer. Attempting to play whack-a-dragon by bopping it with the hammer while it's coming out of the hole will just get you killed.)

But enough about me. Let's see what links are sitting in the old slush-pile today.

Tim Carver dreams the Superbowl Halftime show:

Well, Peter, you know what they say: If there's one thing that you can safely say about the Super Bowl crowd, it's that they love Expressionist painters almost as much as they love experimental avant-garde theater.

Another interesting collaborative text site: Blather (I found it through its page on the dreaded stichomancy).

Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory. When you really, really, want that file erased; a classic paper on the subject from the 1996 USENIX Security Symposium.

Julia Tenney's page of name generators (just call me "delicate wildcat"!).

Late-breaking news: I was Driver of Third Car in a minor three-car accident on the way to work this morning. No one hurt, no big deal (after that scary day last April fender-benders don't impress me much). But it does mean I'll have to deal with insurance companies and repair shops and stuff; y'all can pray (or prey) to the Gods of Suburban Convenience for me...

Tuesday, January 30, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Stichomancy on the Web (choosing random passages from random books to foretell the future, answer questions, choose bedding, and so on) is one of the Neatest Things in the World! Too bad their database doesn't seem to include (for instance) any Perry Mason novels. (Link from Steve, who found out about stichomancy from Caterina.)

I suspect there's some deep psychic connection between my interest in infinite houses and random paragraphs of narrative.

Speaking of Steve, one of his readers recently wrote enigmatically:

Dave will tell you who Chuck Carroll is.

The Chuck Carroll that I know is Player Chuck on Agora Nomic, one of the Net's older and more venerable Nomic games. Chuck has been Rulekeepor (not "Rulekeeper"; Agora has some interesting spelling conventions) of Agora for just about ever, and is certainly one of the factors that have kept the game going for so long. I suspect e is also a contributor to this here Log, but I try not to know such things. *8)

I fondly remember my days as Player Favor on Agora! Chuck and I both belonged to the Misanthropists' Group, an Agora Organization that I thought up to (what else?) exploit the Rules. There was at that time a provision in the Rules for the formation of Groups, which provided that each Group would have a vote (roughly just like each player has a vote), and that the Group's vote would be cast according to the Ordinances of the Group. A few Groups formed to take advantage of this extra voting power, but they were typically founded to advance some cause or other, on the notion that the members of the Group all agreed on something. I decided to found a Group for people who didn't want to have to agree with anyone about anything, but still wanted to exploit the extra voting power offered by the Group rules.

The Ordinances of the Misanthropists' Group as of 1997/03/17 (saved thanks to a zealous Agoran) were as follows:

Group Name: Misanthropists' Group

Current Ordinances:

  1. These Group Ordinances may be changed only by unanimous agreement of all Group Members. When all Members have agreed to a change, the Vizier shall distribute the new Ordinances to all Members. Under no circumstances shall these Ordinances be interpreted as constraining the casting of personal Votes by Members.
  2. The initial Vizier for the Group is favor. The Vizier may resign at any time, transferring the Viziership to a willing Group Member by whatever procedure is mandated by the Rules of Agora Nomic. It is the responsibility of the Vizier to detect and report any currency transfers mandated by these Ordinances.
  3. There are two positions, known as Misanthropists' Group Voter and Misanthropists' Group Roller. The Roller is normally the Vizier, although e may delegate this position to any willing Member. The Voter is selected as described below.
  4. At any time that the Group has fewer than four (4) members, any Player of Agora Nomic may become a Member of the Group by informing the Vizier that e does so, and by taking any other actions that are required by the Rules of Agora Nomic. No membership fee is required.
  5. When a Player becomes a member of the Group for the first time, e is issued three (3) Group Coins from the Group Treasury. With luck, these will become Valuable Collector's Items. If any currencies except Extra Votes somehow find themselves in the Group Teasury, they will remain there until the Members of the Group unanimously agree to do something else with them.
  6. Each Nomic Week, the Roller will randomly select one of the Active Players who is a Member of the Group to be Group Voter for the next week. The Roller will announce the selection to all Group Members. There will be no Group Voter for the week that the Group first comes into being.
  7. The Group Voter for a given Week has the full and sole authority to vote on behalf of the Group on any Proposals which are distributed by the Promotor during that Week. e may also at eir discretion cast one (and no more than one) of the Extra Votes (if any) in the Group Treasury on one of those Proposals; eir notifying the Vizier of eir desire to do so causes one of the Extra Votes in the Group Treasury to be transferred to the Treasury of the Group Voter. The Group Voter shall inform the Vizier of how the Group will vote, and the Vizier shall forward this information to the Agora Assessor (or other mechanisms for Group Voting, should any be adopted by Agora Nomic).

Isn't that utterly fascinating? I was also founder (and apparently sole member) of the Secret Eka-Platonist Cabal, a group (well, technically speaking a Contest, but that's neither here nor there) dedicated to the proposition that it should not be possible to break a Rule; that the Rules ought to be, that is, more like Laws of Nature than Laws of Man. (I won't reprint the entire Subordinate Legal Code of the Cabal here, just 'cause I'm a nice guy. I don't remember why the Cabal had a Frankenstein Monster; perhaps I was just being silly, or perhaps it was an elaborate scam.)

This was (and for all I know still is) one of the big Philosophical Issues that came up in Agora: whether the Rules should be regarded as "constraining" the actions of players (a notion I generally found absurd to the point of meaninglessness), or whether they should instead be seen as simply saying what happens to the state of the Game when a player does certain things.

For my Bachelor of Nomic degree (Agora has four Rules that govern the granting of Degrees) I wrote a Thesis entitled "A Completely Formal Nomic", in which I outline a Nomic-like system in which the Eka-Platonist Truth would be blindingly obvious (although to distract the unwary the Thesis is couched in terms of avoiding word-meaning ambiguity). Players could send in whatever character strings they wanted, and various things would happen to the Gamestate (including the Rules) as a result. None of these silly notions of "Rule violation" or "constraint". (Of course sending in certain character strings might result in your losing all your points, or having insulting email about you sent to all Players, but that would be a result of the Rules being followed (by the Game) not violated (by a Player).)

Player Antimatter on Agora once started writing a completely formal Nomic in Perl (of course!), but I can't find it on the Web anymore (just a broken link from this Nomic Links page). Broken links shouldn't be allowed.

In fact the origin of Agora itself is in something vaguely similar: Nomic World (or Nomic MUD?), a MUD (remind me to blather about my MUD days sometime) on which one would play Nomic. The Fatal Flaw of Nomic World was apparently that when the rules changed, the code of the MUD had to be updated by hand to fit. This would not be a problem in an automated Completely Formal Nomic (which I suspect would instead have the problem that it would constantly crash and burn, purely automatically!).

And this brings us full circle back to blogs again (well, we're sort of always at blogs in some sense): the First Speaker of Agora Nomic was Michael Norrish, who has since caught the weblogging bug himself.

So there you are!

Monday, January 29, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Over the weekend I wrote up the various "vast houses" pointers that I've found and been sent, as a genuine bibliography page. Note how gussied-up it is, with dates and Official Site info and all sortsa stuff like that. Kinda silly, but fun! We'll see if I get enough suggestions, and have enough will, to keep it up to date.

On the subject, Kevin Meehan writes:

Another to consider is William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderland. Granted, the house is a gateway and not a universal house but it's really a good book.

As far as "House of Leaves" goes, my copy whispers and moans from the bookshelf. It's the most disturbing thing I've read in 15 years. I know that doesn't seem like a compliment but it's meant as one.

I actually stopped at a bricks 'n' mortar bookstore on the way to the grocer's on Sunday to look for "House of Leaves". They'd heard of it, but didn't have it in stock. Tsk!

On (I trust!) the subject of homemade hot chocolate mixes, a reader writes:

Have you tried adding milkfat? I know it's not "dry", but it might work.

Or I could just use cream in the first place! *8) But the idea (which perhaps I didn't go into in enough detail) is to have something dry that keeps well at room temperature, and can for instance be kept around in a cannister in the office. Mixing in (say) a stick of butter would defeat some of those purposes...

Another reader writes, in support of giving over receiving (or vice-versa):

Dave; I go to blogs to glean, pick up stuff, learn. Your blog asks us to submit answers, give you info, provide you with stuff. Why bother?

The last question is a tad ambiguous. Why I bother asking: because I have wonderful clever readers who sometimes say great stuff that I never would have thought of myself; when I ask for answers, it's generally on the theory that it's not only me who might enjoy reading them. Why people bother contributing: 'cause they like to, I guess. Seeing their words in print on someone else's paper, taking part in an interesting conversation. But I'm sure there are readers who just read, who just glean, pick up stuff, learn; they're welcome, too. Participation in the input box is strictly optional!

Can the government legislate fantasies? ("fubar" for name and password seem to work at nytimes.com lately):

At the heart of a hotly debated federal child pornography law that the United States Supreme Court accepted for review this week is a simple question with implications for the digital world: May the government criminalize computer-generated images of fictitious people engaged in imaginary acts?

Coming soon to a Dental Care aisle near you: Wasabi toothpaste!

The ACLU on the dotty new TLDs:

For present purposes, two examples may suffice: ICANN rejected the ".union" proposal based on unfounded speculation that the international labor organizations that proposed the gTLD were somehow undemocratic. The procedures being used gave the proponents no opportunity to reply to this unfounded accusation. Later, ".iii" was rejected because the Board was concerned that the name was difficult to pronounce, even though the ability to pronounce a proposed gTLD had never before been mentioned as a decision criterion.

All for the want of a nail:

An additional 5,800 Floridians punched their ballots for both Bush and Gore. This group of voters was 10 times the size of Bush's winning margin in Florida.

It should be interesting to watch the various post-election unofficial recounts that happen. And in our last bit of political news for the day, a Reason article about that famous red and blue election map:

Forget about the "two Americas": There are many more than that. However uneasily they may coexist at times, e pluribus unum -- "out of many, one" -- is not just a motto. The electoral map has only two colors; our national palette has many more.

(Note that the account of what Paul Begala said about the red parts of the country is only one interpretation; see this Red Rock Eater number for an alternate view.)

And speaking of Red Rock Eaters, here's a wonderful quote from an RRE Notes and Recommendations from last year that I'd somehow missed:

It's true: people who have never used computers are the last flickering flame of humanity. We must sit at their feet and learn what they have to teach us. Whenever we invent a new version of our sorry gadgets, we should respectfully ask a few of these wise people to sacrifice their minds by learning how to use them. (I'm amazed that introductory computer science courses, unlike other bizarre medical experiments, don't require human subjects releases.)

From david mankins, a great story about all sorts of things, including the mapping of India, prayer wheels, and Jon Postel.

From Daniel P. Dern and SlashDot and generally around, ASCII webcams! Why bother with them annoying video players?

Friday, January 26, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So there's a problem, and the problem is that if you make your own hot chocolate mix using sugar and cocoa and nonfat dry milk in the obvious way, it just doesn't taste right. I have the feeling it's the milk: NFD milk with hot water added back just isn't the same. It even smells sorta funny.

Anyone know a Clever Secret that would allow this to work? What I want, obviously, is a recipe for dry hot chocolate mix that produces good-tasting (which I would expect would mean milk-containing) hot chocolate when you add hot water. (There's one hot chocolate mix recipe circulating on the Web, but it involves non-dairy coffee creamer, which I somehow can't imagine actually ingesting.)

Lots of good responses coming in on the "A good book:" prompt, so I'm leaving it up for another week. Keep those cards and letters coming, and eventually we'll have a party. (Not one of those parties that are so messy to clean up after or anything; just a nice clean party. In a nice clean Web, with shiny shelves and brightly colored refrigerator magnets. Down in the basement the weasels sleep, sated.)

Vasty Houses: Some good reader responses on yesterday's more specific question also, some of which appear below. I want to actually produce a Web page with the beginnings of a bibliography of these, if I can find the time and energy (the weasels, the weasels; no wonder the baileys never come around here anymore!).

The car "Gay Deceiver" in "The Number of the Beast" is sort of like that big house you mentioned. Also, remember the cat in "The Cat who walked through Walls" and "To Sail Beyond the sunset". He ran straight at a wall and at the last minute a little cat door opened and he went to some other place in the universe.


If nobody's pointed it out already, you may want to check out Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves" which came out last year. It's an odd and creepy book, cross-referenced under literature and horror, unconventionally typeset and so on. The New York Times review is a pretty good description.

I'm pretty sure Lovecraft never wrote about either vast or infinite houses, unless you count C'thulhu's place of residence in R'lyeh. It was said to be non-Euclidean, but no mention of size I think. He did, curiously, write a short story entitled "The Strange High House in the Mist".

Terry Pratchett's Discworld books feature infinite libraries, of a sort. The idea is that all libraries are connected via L-space. There's some magic involved in the concept as well. I always liked that idea. As a bonus, his books feature the great character of the Librarian, an orangutan who used to be a wizard. He was transformed into an orangutan by an accident (some kind of spell gone awry), and resolutely refused to be changed back. Parly I think this was due to the fact that his greatly increased climbing abilities extended his ability to go wandering through L-space, but there's more to it, I'm sure. They're very fun books to read, I think. Light and quick and funny and some of them are actually rather deep in parts ("Small Gods" in particular). Your mileage may vary, of course. -Beth

If you're compiling a list of infinitely large fictional houses, you MUST include Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves". A filmmaker and his family move into an old house. They return from a weekend trip to find a connecting hallway between two rooms that wasn't there before, and discover that the house is a half-inch larger on the inside than on the outside. And then a corridor into nowhere appears in the living room... Halfway through the book I couldn't sleep for fear of waking up to find a new door in MY wall -- creepy as all-get-out. Also, it's kind of a book within a book, with different layers of stuff going on. The book has a website at houseofleaves.com that I can't seem to access at the moment, and Amazon's page is (here) with a more detailed description.
-- Brennan M. O'Keefe, Weblogging Considered Harmful

Georges Perec - A Man Asleep

The Citadel of the Autarch, in (duh!) "Citadel of the Autarch".

The house from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"?

Interesting responses! Some of these are houses or house-like things that are gateways to other and/or vast spaces (rather than in some sense being vast inside themselves). Which is perfectly okay, of course! The wardrobe was (I've always assumed) a way into Narnia, but didn't actually contain Narnia. I'm not a big Dr. Whoian, but as I recall the Tardis is some of both: it's much bigger inside than outside (but not actually vast?), and it can be made to appear just about anywhere, so its outer door can open on wherever you can navigate to. Same for Heinlein's Gay Deceiver, I think (although I have to admit I haven't retained that particular part of the RAH opus very well!).

Sounds like I ought to read "House of Leaves", and probably "A Man Asleep"; more fodder for the Wish List! Anyway, keep those suggestions flowing (and maybe over the weekend I'll find the time to dig up at least the one Borges story that I'm sure I remember, but can't quite name).

Shucks, let's do some links and stuff, eh?

From TBTF, the earnest and interesting Advogato, and its silly and amusing Evil Twin Badvogato.

From Alamut, some nifty-keen robot snakes, including movies of their (scarily realistic) slithering along.

Microsoft has an update to the security bulletin about PowerPoint 2000 that I referenced the other day. If you did anything about the previous one, looks like you'll have to do it again. My favorite part of this and many other Microsoft Security Bulletins is the "but it's really not so bad" section:

Mitigating Factors:
The user would need to be enticed into either opening the malformed PowerPoint 2000 file, visiting a malicious website, or viewing a specially crafted html email message.

Now I can certainly sympathize with the poor people who have to write these things, but just how hard is it to "entice" someone to "view" a piece of email?

Everyone is logging this, but it's such a neat hack that I can't help joining in to pay tribute:

DirecTV sent programmatic code in the stream, using their new dynamic code ally, that hunted down hacked smart cards and destroyed them. The IRC DirecTV channels overflowed with thousands of people who had lost the ability to watch their stolen TV. The hacking community by and large lost not only their ability to watch TV, but the cards themselves were likely permanently destroyed. Some estimate that in one evening, 100,000 smart cards were destroyed, removing 98% of the hacking communities' ability to steal their signal. To add a little pizzazz to the operation, DirecTV personally "signed" the anti-hacker attack. The first 8 computer bytes of all hacked cards were rewritten to read "GAME OVER".

The impressive thing about this, to me, is how positive the reaction of the clued community has been to what DirecTV did. I mean sure it goes against the whole "information wants to be free" dogma, but it was clearly a Very Cool Hack, and that's what counts.

I've just discovered NoahGrey.com, a blog with a very nice polished design, interesting clued content, and its own CafePress store.

(Someday I want to make that page listing blogs with associated stores, and a checklist of Fun Knobs To Add To Your Blog, which would include things like CafePress stores, "links open in new window" boxes, permalinks, search pages, and so on.)

The Big Brother Awards:

"Big Brother" awards are presented to the government agencies, companies and initiatives which have done most to invade personal privacy. A "lifetime menace" award is also presented.

Someone should suggest that "lifetime menace award" thing to Badvogato.   *8)

So anyway! Off to polish the metaphors! Spin the cherries! Mollify the dreaming weasels, restless in their slumber! Don't flake any retroactive dendrites!


earlier entries