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Thursday, July 12, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So now half my garage is full of giant-tub parts. Soon some guys will come to assemble the giant tub from the parts, and then we will fill it with water, and begin an unending process of chemical balancing. Hoo-ha!

Here are some people who don't like polygamy. Or they say they don't. What they actually don't seem to like (and I can't blame them) is statutory rape, poverty, violence, and religious dogmatism. Monogamy is, as far as I can tell, not significantly more immune to those things than polygamy.

From Daze Reader (who has in fact lots of links worth following) via Pursed Lips (who does also), the amusing Microsoft's Algolagniac Thesaurus:

I began to notice a pattern. There are no entries for adjectives like carnal, libidinous, voluptuous, or prurient, and there's nothing listed for sexual acts like fellatio, orgy, or rape. A colloquial term like cheesy gets three synonyms; sexy and horny have none.

Speaking of prurient, the next expansion pack for The Sims (which I haven't touched in over a year) is Hot Date, which sounds interesting (romantic overtones aside) because you get to build a Downtown area for the characters to go on dates in. One of the most boring things about the Sims was that you could never follow them out of the house. I wonder if I'll actually buy this one?

Hey, how about a Sims / Dungeon Keeper 2 crossover!

One of your Sims has become unhappy
Because he is being tortured.

Making the rounds: the Google Zeitgeist; modern trends.

Alamut points to an article on cryptic biodiversity: biologists are finding that various identical-looking creatures are in fact (when you look at the DNA) in different species! They've just come to look the same, because they're in the same niches.

This is cool in itself, but Alamut spins it deeper (look at the 2 July 2001 entry). Are you and I completely different inside, and only similar on the outside because we've evolved into similar niches? Is the person next to you on the bus sitting there for some unimaginably Other reason than you are, and that reason just happens to also lead to sitting on a bus, dressed a certain way? Is his internal life, and even his life outside the bus, utterly different from yours, and they just happen to look sort of similar at this moment?

How odd are those other islands? (See also "How strange can things get?", just over a year ago.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So last night I went out with the lawnmower and mowed large chunks of the tennis court. This wasn't as heartrending as one might expect; it's high summer, not vivid spring, and there were very few flowers to remind me of vanished tiny girls. And I left a couple of big islands of unmowed weeds. For myself, in truth, more than for her.

And actually it was fun, exerting my civilized energy to cut swaths through the wild jungle. Let me sing the praises of this lawn-mower, in fact.

When I went to buy a lawn mower years ago, I gasped at the prices of the big fancy ones, and asked to see the simplest thing they had. The garden-store guy (this is a little local garden-store, where they actually know stuff) took me to the back where they had a couple minimalist mowers, and said, probably realizing that I wasn't going to buy anything big regardless, "You know, this is probably the best mower we have, really; the fancy ones, if you hit a rock you'll be bringing it in for service; this one, if you hit a rock maybe the engine stops, but you just start it up again."

And he's entirely right. I'm not at all kind to this mower, leaving it uncleaned and with the oil unchanged for months or years (especially in those years that I yield to temptation and pay someone else to mow the lawn). But it still works! It took quite a few pulls on the cord, but it worked last night, after being ignored for who knows how long. It has no drive-train, no computer, no fuel-injectors; but it cut the grass.

This mower, lovely in its simplicity, is a square metal plate with the edges bent under, and a wheel at each corner. On the back there's a long handle with a dead-man bar and a primitive throttle, leading down to a 3.5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine mounted over a hole in the metal plate, the driveshaft going down through the hole and ending in a set of blades. That's the whole thing: the plate, the handle, the bar, the throttle, the blades, the engine with its single sparkplug, air filter, and caps for the gastank and the oil. That's all. I understand almost all of it!

"Briggs & Stratton" is the perfect name for an engine, isn't it? "Briggs & Stratton": if it didn't exist we would have had to invent it.

(A sudden change of subject appears to occur here, but all will be tied together eventually; have faith!)


Did anyone else read the SURFToons, CYCLEToons, and CARToons comics back in the late sixties? I have very fond memories of them. (I remember this one cartoon where a surfer is running toward the water, and first he shouts "cowabunga", and then "horseabunga" and then "pigabunga"; I had no idea what it all meant, but it was great.) The drawing and style were both extremely funny (usually in a silly slapstick way perfect for the 8 or 10 year old kid I must have been back then), and filled with mysterious jargon of a culture I didn't know. I was apparently a sucker for foreign jargons even then.

They're all long out of print; here's a CARToons page that also has a page about CYCLEToons, SURFToons, and Hot Rod Cartoons (I don't remember ever seeing that latter). I distinctly remember this cover, for instance. Geez, I was eight when it was published!

Anyway! The very tenuous reason I bring this up is that the poetry of "Briggs and Stratton" reminded me of the "Webley-Vickers 50/80", which was (I seem to recall) the amazing old motorcycle driven by the ancient dude in CYCLEToons who always got the girl that the young dude on the Harley-Davidson Electraglide was lusting after. Now a Webley-Vickers 50.80 actually seems to be a pistol, but here's a page about the motorcycle (which is probably apocryphal in some interesting sense).

A reader who may or may not have drifted over from Plurp writes:

Love has a nose
But you'd better not bite it
Only glows when it's on the wine

Bottle of red
And you're almost wasted
Lose your glove and forget to take mine


Here are some people who think that marriage is a really good thing. So what do they do? Well, naturally they try to amend the Constitution to limit the set of people that can marry. Hey, that's sensible! Yahoo news story on the same subject (link from Pursed Lips).

This relates to our musings about polygamy the other week. Here's Sullum from Reason Magazine writing about the government's impression that it can control who marries whom, and how many. He thinks it's a bad idea too. And here's one of the "marriage is one man and one woman" people, quoted in the Yahoo story cited above:

"Let's challenge the homosexual movement to play fair on the playing field of democracy," Daniels said. "If they want the benefits of marriage allocated to a wider circle of groups, they need to convince the majority of people that it's the right thing."

This is clueless, of course; minorities do not have to convince the majority that they are entitled to fundamental rights. One of the most important functions of government is to protect minorities from majorities who would oppress them and deny them their rights.

(In fact this is one of the problems with Scalia's Bowers dissent (also discussed the other week). One of his main claims is that the Supreme Court shouldn't be granting rights to non-heterosexuals, because the majority doesn't think that they should be granted those rights. The Supreme Court, in this view, exists only to rubber-stamp the decisions of the majority, even if those decisions violate the rights of a minority. It's unlikely that Scalia would find this way in a free speech case, or even a freedom of religion case. But maybe sexual issues make him uncomfortable...)

Eek! Look at the time. I must go somewhere and do something, post-haste. (What's "post-haste" mean, anyway?)

Tuesday, July 10, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Today mostly a couple of followups on things previously logged. We briefly mentioned scientific studies of prayer the other week. One of the relevant papers is "Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population":

The therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer (IP) to the Judeo-Christian God, one of the oldest forms of therapy, has had little attention in the medical literature. To evaluate the effects of IP in a coronary care unit (CCU) population, a prospective randomized double-blind protocol was followed.

Here's a page with the abstract and some related pointers, and here's what seems to be the paper itself.

In general I have the feeling that the Judeo-Christian God doesn't really appreciate having his behavior scientifically tested (I vaguely recall that at least the Catholics consider such testing a sin?). On the other hand there's the very scientific experiment in 1 Kings 18; see for instance here and here:

Mort, owing to the poor numbers for the Prophets of the Most High, here are today's rules for a limited field, according to the Prophet, Judge and Seer Rule Book of 551... What we are going to see here today is a simple sacrifice of two bulls, one by each side. What makes it tricky, though is that neither side gets any fire! That's right, they put all the wood, oil, or whatever on the sacrifice that they want to, but they can't light it. Whoever gets their sacrifice to be consumed by divine fire first wins.

Back in April sometime, we logged the Sentient Property Crime Bureau, and later on we discovered that it was part of the publicity campaign for the movie "A.I." (see Ian's insightful review). Well, it turns out that said publicity campaign wasn't just a simple matter of a few coolish fictional websites. As I may very well be the last to know, it's a vast game spread all over the web (and in movie trailers and telephone answering machines and who knows what), and it's still going on even though the movie is out. Go to the Cloudmakers site for all there is to know about this. If you have vast amounts of free time on your hands, you can even join in the effort to solve the Big Puzzle.

Reasonable sounding legal decision on "browse-wrap" licenses:

To the contrary, the court wrote, "downloading is hardly an unambiguous indication of assent. The primary purpose of downloading is to obtain a product not to assent to an agreement ... Netscape's failure to require users of SmartDownload to indicate assent to its license as a precondition to downloading and using its software is fatal to its argument that a contract is formed."

I must yet again urge everyone to go talk to Klaus:

Me: What is the meaning of history?
Klaus: The komodo dragon is the perfect cheese sandwich.

Geegaw (who is also the one that last reminded me about Klaus) leads indirectly to an interesting person (with a nice simple design from the days when content actually mattered the most); in particular he's done a sort of adventure game based on Piranesi's Imaginary Prisons, an extremely cool set of engravings of vast dark brooding fictional structures. Smallish and not entirely satisfactory pictures can be found here.

A spammer writes:

MAKE  MONEY without you having to do ANYTHING!!!
Are you interested in making extra money on the Internet without you dooing enything?
Yes now it is truth!!
What I am going to tell you now is phenominal...you can actually do just that!

Without me dooing enything! What's the deal with the spelling in this sort of spam? Are they intentionally sounding stupid? If they're really too stupid or lazy to spellcheck, how were they smart and energetic enough to figure out how to spam? I guess there are turnkey "fill in your exciting if fraudulent message here and click GO" automatic spam generating programs now. Well, at least the horrible spelling is mildly amusing...

Caterina points out this very cool, if largely unreadable, online design magazine. I like paging through hardcopy magazines like this at airport newsstands; sometimes I even buy them. But I don't usually read the words. Obvious comment about the irony of unreadable design magazines here!

Proper Usenet quoting style. Blogged for no particular reason.

Monday, July 9, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

My heart's been broken again.

We're seriously looking into buying an enormous tub of water, along with a moderately elaborate system of pumps and filters to keep various parameters of the water in the tub within certain limits. The obvious place for the tub is in the "tennis court", an unused part of our yard that was in fact a small clay tennis court many years ago, and is now just a big rectangular place with a ten foot high slightly rusty fence around it, that we try to keep from growing any major trees, but we don't mow or seed or anything.

The little daughter has always loved the tennis court and its weeds, as a place to wander around and pick wild flowers. (In fact she's mostly loved it in the abstract; she's actually gathered flowers there maybe a dozen times in her life.) Anyway, we were talking about the prospective new tub yesterday evening, and how it'd be fun to be able to soak in the tub's water when it's hot outside and stuff, and she looked sort of wistful for a second, and she said "good-bye, flower garden".

I said that the tub wouldn't take up the whole tennis court, and we could certainly set aside part of it for wild weeds. She sort of shrugged and smiled, and said "no". Just "no". No, she's not a tiny person anymore who gathers bunches of weeds and gives them to Mommy as bouquets of flowers. No, she doesn't need that hot sunny place to wander in anymore; it's okay.

Must not cry at work. Must not cry at work.

Anyway! Enough maudlin sentiment. We will distract ourselves from the painful beauty of the world by linking to a few Web pages. What else is a weblog for, after all?

Unfortunate domain name of the day: animalsexotique.

Very cool powers-of-ten animation (Java). (See also a previous April.)

Those annoying X10 popup ads: X10 tells you how great they are, and also mentions how to turn them off. For awhile.

Bad Managers dot com. Some rather amusing "how stupid things are" pages here.

An open source version of Microsoft's .NET? How confusing!

Readable essay on the state of the modern book review.

A long time ago we logged a neat hack by DirecTV against people using unauthorized signal descramblers. It looks like the next round is going to the other side: this SlashDot article talks about a new hack, in which a central server (or a network of peer servers) can potentially do the signal-descrambling for a whole tribe of clients. For educational purposes only, of course. *8)

Perl Module o' the Day: Quantum::Superpositions.

From each according to his inclination,
To each according to his desires.

(Oh, and I stayed up playing Dungeon Keeper 2 again last night. Only until 01:30 this time, though...)

Friday, July 6, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

A reader writes:

Kyllo v.United States !!

We already logged that, but a good point anyway. You have an expectation of privacy in the infrared signature of your walls. Isn't that nice?

I commend a couple other recent SCOTUS decisions to your attention. Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee is about campaign financing laws, something we've talked about here before. It's a rather technical decision, but it touches on some fundamentals, and it leads into some of the previous decisions on the subject. Good News Club v. Milford Central School, about separation of church and state, found that if a school lets random groups meet in their rooms after school, they have to let religious groups do so also. The particular finding was based on the facts of the particular case, but again some basic principles show, and some good pointers to previous cases.

I have to correct one thing I said about Justice Scalia's Bowers dissent, in this paragraph the other day. Scalia didn't say that the law was okay because its effects could be undone by changing the law (whew!). What he said was actually that it was okay for the government to make it harder for one group than another to get special protection from the laws, as long as there was a rational reason for it. That's relatively reasonable. I disagree with his interpretation of the principle in this case, of course; Amendment two made it harder to get equal treatment, not just special treatment, and there was in fact no rational reason behind it. But at least his argument wasn't actually insane. *8)

I find I'm not very happy with some aspects of the Constitutional law I've been reading lately. On laws against private discrimination, for instance, the courts have found that a law can forbid private discrimination, even if that forbidding violates to some extent rights of association and speech, as long as there's a sufficiently important "state interest" served. Similarly, the established doctrine on the Equal Protection clause of the XIVth Amendment is that the state can't divide citizens into groups and treat them unequally unless there's "a rational relationship to legitimate state interests", or (if the inequality involves fundamental rights, or "suspect" classifications such as sex or race) if there's "a compelling state interest".

Now what's all this "state interest" cruft? I'm a pretty strong believer in individual rights. I don't think the state has any rights per se, and while the state may have "interests", those interests should never trump any individual right, no matter how small. Violations of individual rights can be allowed only when they are necessary to avoid violations of other individual rights.

So my explanation for a law against private discrimination in the public sphere, for instance, is that the right of people not to be discriminated against in that sphere trumps (in some cases) the rights of association of the people who want to discriminate. Similarly, a judge's right to preach her religion stops at the courthouse door, because the defendants who come before her have the right to a government that doesn't endorse (or appear to endorse) a particular religion. This is all about a balance between different individual rights; no "state interests" here!

Of course it may be that every "state interest" is an interest in protecting certain rights of its citizens. That'd be okay. But I'd rather the Supremes talked directly in terms of individual rights in that case, without adding the extra layer of indirection. Who knows what the state might find that it has a "compelling interest" in next year?


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