log (2001/08/17 to 2001/08/23)

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Tell me something...
Thursday, August 23, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So I'm still connected today!

I like the general "enigmatic alien artifacts" SF theme, but it's a real challenge to end it well. The reader really wants all the enigmas to be explained, but giving an explanation that does justice to the alienness and the enigmaticity is hard. If you've done the setup right, the reader's expectations will be way high; it's tough to deliver a Truth that will be sufficiently galaxy-sized and beyond human comprehension.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" does a pretty good job, by making the explanation as engimatic as the enigma, but still giving a feeling of closure (albeit confused closure).

I was very disappointed the first time I finished Lem's "Solaris"; I felt that both the protagonist and the author had just given up, and I'd been cheated out of an explanation. But from the vantage of the years, I suspect that that was the point.

Pohl's Heechee books did a decent job of actually explaining the alien enigma; the truth behind the artifacts turned out to be indeed galaxy-sized and aeons-long, if not amazingly mind-expanding.

I've just finished Charles Sheffield's "Convergent Series" (which is, confusingly, the two short novels "Summertide" and "Divergence" which are the first two of at least four novels set in the same universe). My impression fresh from the last page is that this is a good example of why this theme is hard, and how a good writer can fail to do it well.   *8)

The Builders vanished from the galaxy like five millions years ago, leaving behind lotsa neat and very mysterious alien artifacts. A satisfactory explanation of them would have to be mind-stretching and transcendant. Unfortunately it turns out that the Builders were actually pretty dumb; their entire civilization was traumatized by one of those pseudo-profound questions that freshman Philosophy students argue about in the pub, and their approach to solving the problem is utterly implausible (albeit necessary for the plot). Phht.

I'm reminded of a cheap thriller I read in college. It had a very intriguing "impossible problem" setup, in which all these strange things kept happening, things changed in rooms that reliable witnesses swore had to be empty, and so on. I was expecting a clever locked-room mystery sort of explanation, but no! Turns out one of the characters has the mysterious power to make himself invisible! Phht.

I wonder if there are any locked room murder mysteries where it turns out that the murderer has magical powers, and can turn invisible and walk through walls. Sort of takes the fun out of it!   *8)

Wednesday, August 22, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So yeah I'm going to be in Unusual Circumstances for awhile, but today I'm still here, and you can read this. Tomorrow I dunno!

Tell me something...

Anais Nin for these erotischen narrations received a dollar per page, in order to finance thereby living costs for itself and Henry Miller. Only later it released 35 years these delicate pieces of cabinet for publication.

"Delicate pieces of cabinet".

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.

Oh, I dunno. How about a little plan like "I think as soon as I finish this chapter I'll go over and stir the pot full of human blood"?

"The Secret of Carol Stream" would make a pretty good title for a probably-pretty-bad movie.

Or a Nancy Drew book.

Modern human culture is the direct result of a Reticulan experiment in memetic engineering. It's a test to destruction, an attempt to compel an entire species to destroy itself in an orgy of hatred and consumption.

Why, you could never reach a star, without you, zero, my hero, zero, how wonderful you are!

Okay. There's a loudly purring cat on my knee.

It only looked like a highway on the outside. Inside, it was the same tangle of banned thoughts and illicit urges that we all are, leading ourselves by the nose from point A to point B, then back again. The cars, their tires in low screams as they plunder its length, pretend not to notice, but they do.

Or perhaps

It only has resembles a slow train on the exterior. At the interior of, they was same embrouillement prohibited pensees and to urge illicit that us all naps, being carried out by the nose from point A to the point B, then of return still. The cars, their tires in low cries percants because they plunder its length, pretend not to note, but they.

And then,

I don't know.

I'm always naked when I read your log

Naked under my clothes.

I. Who exactly is the Cabal?

The Cabal is a profoundly secret, ruthless, and efficient organization dedicated to separating the wheat from the chaff of the Internet. It is an association of Internet Service Providers, Military Providers and Intelligence Providers that run medium to large scale systems all over the entire world. The NSA advises us that when the International Space Station is operational, they too will participate.

The Scary Devil Monastery:

Not only do I buy the beer, but I also have the root password. There's always enough Guinness for me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So you go out to fight the dragon every day, and you always lose, and then one morning you go out to fight the dragon and you're whistling, and because the dragon is extra hung-over that morning, or because he stubs his wing on a tree, or maybe because you're just lucky, you vanquish him. And for years after, whenever people are talking about fighting dragons, you say "Hey, it's no problem! It's all about whistling."

David reminds me where the "theory of civil society" question came from:

The drift started from the "How does my local deli make any money?" question.

It's all connected.

Steve is a tad sceptical:

Dave thinks that sociology should become a science. Dave's so funny!

Are these fields waiting for their Newton? he asks. Actually, it's no coincidence that Newton picked physics. Good problem selection!

Another reader suggests it isn't Newton:

Sounds like you're looking for Hari Seldon more than Newton.

The Hari Seldon reference suggests that a theory of nations should be easier than a theory of newsgroups; more atoms for the Law of Large Numbers of work on.

So where's that Handbook of Nation Building? I don't need to be able to predict all human action; I just want some time-tested guidelines for moving a society from anarchy to civilization. Maybe we haven't done it often enough. Or maybe no one was taking good notes...

Censorship in action: why I don't publish my HDCP results.

I have written a paper detailing security weaknesses in the HDCP content protection system. I have decided to censor myself and not publish this paper for fear of prosecution and/or liability under the US DMCA law.

Monday, August 20, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

We need a theory about how civil society works; how the infrastructure that lets me take out a loan, that lets someone eles start a business, that gives me mostly smooth roads to drive on, gets created in the first place, and how it continues to thrive. dwl and I drifted into the question from some direction that I forget, noting that various well-intentioned USAians had done a non-stellar job of teaching Russia how to be a good capitalist democracy, and that no one in the world seems to know how to get large chunks of Africa out of anarchy.

Why don't we have a semi-rigorous theory in this area? "In the first year, you do this and this (or if your natural resources are below this level, you do this and this), and then if by the middle of the second year this hasn't happened yet, you begin doing this. When this predicate becomes true, you do this, and then you measure this quantity in your major cities. Then..."

Are we just not smart enough?

It occurs to me that we could use a similar theory of very small-group interaction. Guidelines for the construction of a successful salon. A testable theory of newsgroup pathology.

"Oh, yeah, they won't move from a Stage Three clade to a Stage Four until they get at least one more Mediator, and get rid of the above-kappa Semiotic Tension between Bruce and Paula."

We have stories and anecdotes aplenty in both of those areas, but we don't have actual theories that you can quantify and test, and use to predict. Sociology papers are written, but they're (the ones I've read are) incredibly trivial, and very unambitious. Do we just have to do another century of incredibly trivial study until we have the conceptual resources to do more powerful stuff? Or are we just not taking it seriously enough?

Are these fields waiting for their Newton?

Onion interview with that "Bloom County" guy. Worth reading:

It's like doing a parody of The National Enquirer. Can't be done. We're over-saturated with commentary and with absurdity, and we're numb because of it. Nothing shocks, so what's the fun? And irony, oh, the goddamned irony, that courses through the popular culture like a cancer.
If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.
[Bill Watterson] was the real thing. I was just scampering nude through the aisles before anybody could kick me out. Garry Trudeau was our greatest satirist in the second half of the century. Crazy ol' Bill Watterson created the purest comic strip, after Peanuts, probably. Or before Peanuts became a shadow. Bless him for quitting at the top. It's not easy.

NTK goes to the Dutch hacker congress HAL2001, and reports back.

Oddest sight: A 6'6" cross-dressing Lara Croft-alike
Scariest thing: having a 220V feed to my tent, while it was pissing down with rain.
Worst thing about the rain: It blew away the (outdoors) propagation of the 802.11b Wireless LAN.
Most unsurprising event: The bar ran out of Jolt...

The Girl from Ipanema.

Hmmm, maybe I'll name the next virus I discover "Porsche"... (link from VMyths).


My New Fighting (Filing) Technique is Unstoppable!

Tell me, how to you plan to do any good without two pencils gripped in your hand? They contain ancient widsom!!!

DVD burners!

The war over DVD recording standards will escalate Monday when Hewlett-Packard unwraps the details on its first DVD drive for PCs that lets people repeatedly record on discs.

Feller has an idea for a worm-like attack that "could result in all vulnerable servers on the Internet being infected in less than thirty seconds (possibly significantly less)." Pretty quick!

You have to admire Judith's ambition.

Friday, August 17, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

I'm extremely sleepy. Are you also extremely sleepy? Perhaps it's lingering effects from spending so much time in the Enormous Mall yesterday. Sleepy-dust.

When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, "Because that's where the money is."

"If I am flying a one-man craft which is critically damaged, I will eject. Only if the ejector seat fails will I belt out a long, despairing, agonized scream as I fly the craft into an enemy structure."

Let Microsoft evaluate the security of your Windowsish system, right online! A good idea. Implementation imperfect. It said I was at "Severe Risk" because "You are running Outlook 97 or Outlook 98. You should consider upgrading to the latest version of Outlook to ensure you have the most recent product and security enhancements"; if I'm running any kind of Outlook at all, it must be very well hidden! Similarly, it claims I have Outlook Express installed, and should consider using Outlook instead; if I have any traces of OE installed, they're hidden well enough that I can't find them! It's also upset that "PowerPoint Macro security is not enabled." This probably has something to do with the fact that PowerPoint is not installed.

So I've had two dreams about mainframes in the last couple of weeks. In one dream, I found that there was still this populous and robust culture of mainframe users, and they had very neat newsgroupish collaboration software where you could rate postings and teach the machine what you were interested in and stuff; sort of like SlashDot, only done by grownups. In the other dream (perhaps set later that same day) I was marvelling at this extremely slick mainframe terminal, that had very vivid colors and clever user-interface devices.

Ref Hermann Hesse, "The Journey to the East".

From LinkWatcher's random link to FatSkier.com to Edgar Governo: Historian of Things That Never Were. Extremely fun page of links to timelines of various fictional worlds; from Godzilla and the X-Files to Spinal Tap and Narnia. Be grateful for people with way too much time on their hands...

Oppose Writing Intolerance into the U.S. Constitution!

abuddhas memes writes of the death of Oscar Janiger, Psychiatrist, LSD Researcher. What would have happened if LSD research had stayed at least mildly respectable?

I must recommend Cosmic Baseball in general, if only because it's not at all clear what's going on there.

"Can computers think" is a set of seven poster-sized argumentation maps that chart the entire history of the debate.

Did I mention I'm extremely sleepy?


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