log (2001/09/21 to 2001/09/27)

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Is this the dagger?

Holy Fucking Shit
Thursday, September 27, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Another debunking site: TruthOrFiction dot com. Here are their entries on the "for Taliban, think Nazis" letter that I posted some of the other day (they say that's real; turns out to be a Salon piece), and that "Last Snapshot" picture that someone's probably sent you in email (they say that's fake).

I think I'll stick with Snopes as a primary source, but an extra backup couldn't hurt.

Futurist.com piece on the Extropians, and an interview with the redoutable Damien Broderick. (The Extropians list that I subscribed to the other month generates gynormous amounts of traffic, some interesting but much just chatter, and I read about two percent of it; I keep meaning to seriously consider unsubscribing. But who has time to seriously consider things?)

As everyone else in the universe has probably already pointed out by now, the latest issue of The Onion does an amazing job of being ironically funny (and incredibly touching) about the disasters without being in unacceptably bad taste. Just amazing.

Okay, so this digital camera. As a device, it's extremely neat. Small, light, lotsa buttons and switches and dials and menus and stuff, all of which do two or three different things depending on the number of times you push them and how some other frob is set and the phase of the moon, but which despite it all seem to be pretty usable so far. In one setting it's a dumb point and shoot digital camera, in another setting you can control the f-stop and the shutter priority and the ISOishness (whatever they are), and you can ask it to take three (or five) different pictures of the same thing right in a row with different settings to see which one comes out better, and you can take movies and attach sound annotations to pictures and so on and so on. Pretty fun!

At the moment, though, I have some worries about the actual picture quality. I had meant to play with that today, and post a couple of samples for y'all to look at and give me advice about. But I left the USB cable elsewhere, attached to the last computer I used it on, so I can't actually copy pictures off the camera! Ooops. So probably I'll post some evidence tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.

Man, it's a good thing the eagles are easily satisfied...

Wednesday, September 26, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"If the eye is the window to the soul, then that window needs a shade on it. If the brain is a computer, then the eye is an open port, an unsecured opening against hackers."
-- Steve Mann

As I recall, the original idea behind the lunchtime discussion that Steve (White, not Mann) blogs as leading to "Operation Don't Make Me Come Down There" was something like: "You know, they really ought to name military operations after the names of Culture ships".

The possibilities are appallingly obvious, but I'll belabor some of them anyway: immediately, Operation Youthful Indiscretion, Operation Tactical Grace, Operation Full Refund, Operation No More Mister Nice Guy, Operation Steely Glint, and Operation Frank Exchange of Views. For those ambiguous missions, Operation Grey Area and Operation Ethics Gradient. And from the great long bar-conversation list in Look to Windward, the keepers include Operation Awkward Customer, Operation Germane Riposte, Operation Poke It With a Stick, and Operation But Who's Counting. (Not to mention Operation Inappropriate Response, which is probably unlikely to be used.)

But I think my favorite is:

Operation Now Look What You've Made Me Do

Speaking of operations, here's the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001; [Dept. of Justice] Section-by-Section Analysis. Note that:

EFF does NOT endorse this analysis. It was prepared by the Department of Justice, the authors of the bill. The depth of the analysis indicates beyond any shadow of a doubt that the DoJ has sat on this bill, a "wish list", for some time, waiting to take advantage of a tragedy like the World Trade Center attack to ram it through Congress with little debate or objection.

Is the Act a problem? One alarmed headline: Hackers face life imprisonment under 'Anti-Terrorism' Act.

As we all gradually become experts on the history and culture of the Mideast: "Ground Zero and the Saudi connection; Stephen Schwartz on the extreme Islamic sect that inspires Osama bin Laden as well as all Muslim suicide bombers and is subsidised by Saudi Arabia".

Those wacky gun-rights folks; just can't leave an issue alone.

News flash: The Digital Camera Has Arrived! I'll definitely let you know how it ranks on the cool-toys scale, and perhaps I'll eventually post some pictures of things. There's also considerable reader input and general cogitation and woolgathering backed up, if I happen across any thinking time...

Tuesday, September 25, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Daniel writes, frighteningly enough, that the digital camera activities described here have inspired him to, first, order an Olympus C-700 for himself, and second, to cancel it so as to wait until we get ours and report back to the readership how we like it.

Frightening responsibility! But we will attempt to live up to y'all's expectations. The camera is currently in New Jersey, and scheduled for delivery tomorrow. We are on tenterhooks.

Oh, and talk about good customer service: I wrote to Amazon pointing out that they'd lowered the price of the camera by fifty bucks shortly after I ordered it, and they wrote back to say that they're going to credit my credit card with the difference! In gratitude I will probably spend the refund at Amazon. Which is, I know, what they're counting on. (Also, I'll mention the fact in my weblog, thus building up their Brand Image.) I'm such a Compliant Consumer.

So I wondered about the mysterious disappearing report of people being pulled off of an airplane last Friday, suspected of being further terrorists. Now Steve notices a Kottke page that cites various sources (including a Washington Post story) to the effect that it was all overzealous law enforcement and sloppy media fact-checking, and what actually happened was some haulings-away of random people with funny clothes or furrin names, but without knives or fake identification or anything real like that. So there you are.

I finally saw "The Princess Bride" the other night, and scored 29 out of 30 on the Quiz, which officially makes me "a Absolute Total Princess Bride Junkie", but in fact means that I just saw it the other night. It was fun, and had some great moments. I don't quite understand how it's become such a Cult Film among the clued; perhaps I just wasn't sufficiently stoned.

I like these SpinSanity guys; they seem genuinely non-partisan, and quite civil libertarian. Suppressing Dissent At Home, Fighting for Freedom Abroad?

The principle that dissent is an acceptable and valued part of our democracy must be constantly defended going forward. Media reports indicate that the Bush administration plans a long war against international terrorism, with estimates ranging from five to ten years. This suggests that imperatives of unity could be invoked against dissent for years to come, especially if public support for the war declines. No matter what one's political beliefs, it is crucial that we stay true to our values of open and rational debate during this conflict.

The Laboratorium for Research in Experimental Aesthetics again has a weblog: Mindful Link Propagation. In it, we find a site that answers the question: how old is old enough?

How To Live In A Simulation:

If simulations tend to be ended when enough people in them become confident enough that they live in a simulation, then if you want to live long, you might want to prevent too many others learning that they live in a simulation. However, assuming the actual history of our descendants included many people who said it was likely that they were living in a simulation, then it should be all right if a similar number of people in a simulated world say this. It might even be a problem if too few people said this.

From and/or via one Daniel V. Klein, on some mailing list or other:

"Forget threatening to bomb Afghanistan and the Taliban if they fail to turn over Bin Laden to us. Instead, let's threaten to gather up all of their women and send them to college. In fact, why don't we do that anyway?"

New Encryption Makes Copying CDs Impossible:

A focus group of listeners agreed unanimously that *NSYNC's latest album Celebrity sounded much better after it had been encrypted using NoAudio. "There were no more annoying dance tunes or formula ballads getting in the way of my enjoyment," said one listener.

On the speakers: what else? It's actually at a point now where I can leave it composing and playing in a loop for hours, without getting sick of it. (The worst thing that happens is that it picks some really off-the-wall General Midi patch, and I have to listen to telephone-rings and synthesized birds for a few minutes). Of course, that may be mostly pride of ownership. *8)

Here in my head

Ian let me listen to his copy of "Strange Little Girls", and it was indeed strange, and very Amosian (although I do wish she'd stop overwhelming her voice so much with the music; I kinda like being able to actually hear the vocal, like back in "Little Earthquakes" days). Maybe I'll buy it with some of this unexpected money from Amazon.

Identity-Based Public Key Cryptography. A potentially interesting idea; given (say) someone's email address, you could instantly figure out their public key and send them a message. This removes the annoying "how do you find out someone's public key?" part of the crypto-setup question. Unfortunately, when the person gets the message, if they don't already have their private key they have to go to some trusted server (or set of them) to find out what it is. So there's an additional point of failure / trust. But worth thinking about. I like ideas.

So I mentioned "Ventus" the other day; it was good hard modern SF. In the last week or so I also read Greg Egan's "Diaspora", and Iain Banks' "Look to Windward". Both of them were insanely great: "Diaspora" is the ultimate high-tech extropian "humanity uploads itself into computers and explores the galaxy / universe / dimensions" story, and "Look to Windward" is a strong Culture novel, including various in-jokes for devoted fans. All three of these books are about (among other things) how we might come to be more civilized, more protected, by creating systems that don't allow various bad things to happen: nanotech ecologies, or virtual realities where the laws of physics make aggression impossible, or superhuman Minds who enjoy making sure that humans are in good shape.

It's lovely to think about, and even a worthy goal to aim for. I wonder how realistic it is? In any case, I think it's better (or at least more likely to be useful in the long run) than making up imaginary friends and depending on them to take care of you, perhaps after you're dead. (No offense to any traditional theists or other nutters out there.)

More on the Problem of Evil and possible theological / philosophical / technological solutions or approaches to it in later writings, assuming any of these squashy little thoughts ever gel.

Now I'm rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's A Short, Sharp Shock, which is one of the like fifty or twenty best books ever written, and contains no nanotech of any kind, and is just beautiful and strange. Last read a long time ago, but not before the Log!

I seem to be in "everything's basically going to be okay" mode today. Don't know why, don't know if it's good or bad. It feels better than fear and depression. But how accurate is it? How do we tell?

Monday, September 24, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Some wisdom from this here Moxy Früvous album (their Gulf War Song):

He's just a peacenik and she's just a warhawk
That's where the beach was, that's where the sea
What could we say...we're only 25 years old?
And history seems to agree
that I would fight you for me
That us would fight them for we

Is that how it always will be?

On the other hand they're often just neat and strange:

Spilled some dressing
on Doris Lessing
These writer types are a scream!

And I note there's a new Tori Amos album out, with a pretty kicky premise; I look forward to hearing her covers of "Happiness is a warm gun" and Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde '97" (aka "Look how controversial I am!").


So I had in mind various things to talk about, about books I've recently read, and economics, and the Problem of Evil and all. But then this morning I went to the warehouse of the county food-bank with a dozen or so other folks from the lab, and spent a couple of hours on an ad-hoc assembly line, taking about 1200 pounds of dry pasta from big pallet-sized boxes, repacking it into roughly one-pound portions in plastic bags with ingredient slips, sealing those into smallish boxes ten pounds to a box, and putting the boxes onto pallets to be taken away.

I was the "put the filled and tied bags into the box" part of the line, and I thoroughly enjoyed all 1200 times I did it.

So rather than random woolgathering about the Big Issues of the Universe (which I'll probably get back to later this week), I'll just urge all my readers to call up your local food bank and see if they have any pasta that needs repackaging. It's good for the soul, and for people who don't have enough food...

(In Digital Camera News, the tripod arrived today; the actual camera is still somewhere between Illinois and New Jersey...)

Friday, September 21, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So I've decided what I really want to do for a living: I want to sit around in a well-equipped Modern Wired Office working on like music programs and Perl hacks and stuff, and getting paid lots of money. And then once every couple of months some supplicants will show up and say "yow, yow, we have this terrible problem which will cost us huge amounts of money if it's not solved but make us all very rich if it is solved, and we wonder if you could take a few moments of your valuable time to listen to it," and I would listen to it and mull for awhile and then I would say "your little problem does have one or two interesting aspects; come back and talk to me tomorrow." And then the next day I would give them a one-page XML Schema or a 100-line Perl script or a well-reasoned argument or a patent application that would solve their problem, and they would say "oh thank you thank you thank you, that is just what we needed, here is a large bonus over and above the large amount we already pay you just for sitting around", and I would smile and incline my head slightly, and then go back to my monograph on the noise that Snickers Bars make when you drop them into root beer, and convivial discussions with my friends on alt dot my dot dog dot can dot whip dot your dot dog, and everyone would be happy.

I want to be, that is, Mycroft Holmes. So where do I sign up?

"Do you want your grandchildren to say you were in Blue Spoon?":

Try to keep each word to two syllables or less. Sea Angel, the name that replaced Productive Effort, has all the traits of a memorable name: it is unique and specific; it evokes a clear image in more than one culture; and it has only three syllables.

I kinda like the sound of "Productive Effort", actually.

Prestigious consumer goods

A reader writes:

I think you'll probably like the digital camera a lot. What kind did you get? Where did you get it? How come you didn't go to a place where you could have it just like that? Haven't you been anticipating long enough?

I got an Olympus C-700 UltraZoom from Amazon. A day or two after I bought it, they lowered the price by fifty bucks! Which is exactly why I have this Fear of Commitment when it comes to buying tech.

It never even occurred to me to buy it somewhere where you can buy one on the spot and walk away with it. They still have places like that?

Jules writes a bunch of things, including:

Sounds like your birthday is close to mine! I'm 33 on Friday... Many happy returns anyway...

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to Jules-y, happy birthday to me!!! 21 today (in hex, anyway). Frodo and Bilbo's birthday tomorrow...

My birthday tomorrow, too! I'm not 21, even in hex. Base 20.5, anybody?

As for "The Spy Who Shagged Me" - I would say it's not much different from the first, though the one or two redeeming jokes are very very funny. Also, if you don't like toilet humour, then do avoid "Dumb And Dumber" if you haven't already been suckered into seeing it. It consists almost entirely of that kind of 'humour'.

Just noticed "Lovers Embracing by a Fountain"! How many times have I subbed this box?! Anyway, beautiful touch.

You ever notice that?

On why we're so rotten to each other, Dad writes

too many of us goes a long way. But when there were far fewer we were just as rotten. Maybe its the number vs. the resources. I think I'll have to think on this and write something.

What do you think, and/or How many fingers?

I don't want to be a pie!

What makes you think I think?

I'm trying not to, just yet.

None. Fingers do not respond well to threats.

The Onion has done a good job of being funny and in only acceptably bad taste. So far...

Engage others in tense, unproductive political arguments that break down into embarrassing exchanges of personal attacks.

"Imagine, a federal legislator engaging in the act of physical union. Everyone in Illinois feels very ashamed right now. Ashamed and shocked."

Virus Creator Goes on Trial in Singapore.

I've been trying to figure out the economy (like, "where does all the money go when the stock market plummets?" for instance). But I'm not sure I have it well-enough figured out even to write about it here. Maybe later. Suggestions welcome in the meantime!

I careen from "this is the worst thing ever; the world is permanently changed" to "this was very bad and tragic; but in my own little sphere everything will be like it was". In my weblog, I experiment with talking about other things...


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