log (2001/10/19 to 2001/10/25)

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Thursday, October 25, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Well, I'm still sick (not much better, not much worse, sniffle, cough, groan), and so are various geeky computer things.

Some firewall or something kept me from getting to the public Net for most of the day, including to my very own website here. Also, in an apparently unrelated event, the SMTP daemon on theogeny.com (etc) seems to be gone, so I may have (gasp!) lost some reader input, including reactions and naked dreams. I have at least added a little error-checking to some of the CGIs, so they may at least tell you if something fails, rather than blithely pretending to have worked. I've also pointed them at a different box in the sprawling OnePine empire; that may help.

The webhost is still here; on the other hand the support address hasn't answered my query about the rumor of its upcoming demise, so I dunno. Maybe I should start a backup blog on DiaryLand (not DairyLand). *8)

Cough, sniffle, moan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Last night I dreamed that a bunch of us (the generalized "us" of dreams) were standing around (or swimming around, because it was sometimes a pool) outside, naked, in an oval grassy area surrounded by a chain-link fence. It was part of an art project of some kind (and yes, just yesterday I was indeed thinking about Spencer Tunick).

A wind came up, and this being one of Those Dreams, I was able to spread out my arms and rise a bit above the ground.

"I wonder if we're allowed to fly," I thought to myself, "as long as we stay directly above the enclosure."

Speaking of naked people, let's look at reader input for a picture of a(n)... (all links mine):




apple is not as good as an apple

...but it's much easier to fax.

A picture of a(n)...:

chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board
chess board

Yes, but do you have any pictures of chess boards?

A picture of a(n)...:


sheep orgy

thousand words

person who stole your vest

That'd be nice; thanks for the thought! No sign of it yet, but I'm still irrationally hopeful that the person you mention doesn't exist, and it'll turn up in a corner somewhere.

And finally another request for the ever-popular picture of a...:


From pictures to camera batteries; readers write:

Batteries: shure, why not. I have four sets, all different brands, and two chargers. I use all interchangably.


David: So I'll admit to wondering about "Use only Olympus batteries." Please do put the results into your log when you try them, I'll be curious. Also, if you didn't put in what kind of Olympus charger you have, could you report type and satisfaction results on that also? (I'll go look after I post this)
P.S. Yes, amazing fun that camera is.

I bought Amazon recommended charger for the C-700, the lyrically named B-40SU. Seems to work just fine. It came with four batteries, but I couldn't find an easy source of four more of that exact same battery, so I got these Kodak ones instead. I've now charged the Kodaks in the Olympus charger, and then used them in the camera, with no obvious ill effects. It'd be crazy if they weren't all interchangable, as our first reader suggests.

So! Any good naked dreams lately?   *8)

Tuesday, October 23, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So the other day the little daughter missed a day of school because she was feeling crummy, and then M's been feeling crummy for a few days, and last night in between sleeping I could more or less feel the crumminess entering at my nose and gradually spreading down the back of my throat. So now I have a replicator of some kind, and won't be as sparklingly cogent as usual.

(Yeah, I know the first thing that sprang unbidden into your mind. I don't entirely understand the whole Anthrax Scare, myself. I mean, I'd like to know who's doing it, so we can make sure they aren't about to do something worse, but anthrax itself? C'mon! Not to minimize the tragedy of any individual's suffering, but there've been like under 50 people found exposed or infected. Compare that to any other source of suffering; that's probably less than the number of people killed or injured by the left front tires of Ford Explorers since last Tuesday. And it's not contagious. We've got scarier things to worry about. (Hm, maybe that's part of the attraction...))

Pascal Eze writes:

I am Mr Pascal Eze, the Auditor General of prime banks in Africa, during the course of our auditing I discovered a floating fund in an account opened in the bank in 1990 and since 1993 nobody has operated on this account again, after going through some old files in the records I discovered that the owner of the account died without a [heir] hence the money is floating and if I do not remit this money out urgently it will be forfeited for nothing.

and, in an astounding coincidence, Mr JOVAOBASI writes:

I am Mr JOVAOBASI, the Auditor General of Development Bank For Southern Africa, during the course of our auditing I discovered a floating fund in an account opened in the bank in 1990 and since 1993 nobody has operated on this account again, after going through some old files, from the records I discovered that the owner of the account died without a [heir] hence the money is floating and if I do not remit this money out urgently it will be forfeited for nothing.

How very [odd].

"Tom Bombadil and the Witch-king of Angmar are the same person". (ref the Flying Moose of Nargothrond in general.)

In an attempt to get "Come, Mr. Taliban" out of my head, I will pass it along to you. Everyone else has been giving the URL of the swf directly; here's the page that it properly lives in. (Sick, offensive, compelling.)

Acronym o' the Day: STFW, seen in an esr essay on how to ask good questions of hackers. What does it mean? Why, STFW!

The ever-readable Ethel points us to a collection of links and notes about the next phase of the war to control all your information. Be very afraid.

Chesses in history: Speaking of the war to control all your information, you may have heard that some wag has broken version 2 of Microsoft's Digital Rights Management system. (Technical details are here, and of course you shouldn't download the actual executable or source code because if you do your door will be broken down by jack-booted thugs.) Anyway, in the documentation for the package, the pseudonymous author mentions in passing "Leonard Chess", from which a quick STFW leads us to the History of Chess, which is about neither the Royal Game nor me; it's about Chess Records, an important Jazz label in the fifties and sixties. Who knew? (No relation, I suspect, although it's hard to be sure...)

Wandering back to the information-war topic, here's a little good news: "Techs broadside anti-piracy plan".

On the real-war side of the brain, Joshua W. Burton points out that it may be hard to find an untainted jury pool in a hypothetican OSB trial:

Drawing a line in colloquial terms, Bush added: "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty. Turn him over.

Of course a jury trial may not be exactly what's planned.

So then I read Chris Bunch's The Wind After Time, which was about this former soldier with amazing fighting abilities and cool ESP and stuff who goes around bounty hunting and bedding beautiful women and blowing things up and stuff. Sort of a noir SF Matt Helm, or perhaps an SF Bond, although (thankfully) Bunch breaks with the strict misogynist rules of the genre by not messily killing off every woman that the hero sleeps with. Purchased used, and easily worth the US$0.25.

Now I'm reading Pullman's The Subtle Knife, because the little daughter's done with it and I seem to be following her through the Dark Materials series. It's pretty intense stuff! I'd been thinking of Pullman as a kid's author, since the protagonists are children and the little daughter is reading them and all. But this isn't kid's stuff in any sense. Rich and intricate fantasy, not at all sugar coated (the boy protagonist just lost two fingers; ouch), and with the grandest possible themes. Also armored bears, Arctic witches, and even an alethiometer...

Monday, October 22, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"I'm becoming pretty certain"

"I don't know anyone named becoming pretty certain."

So, the Loebner prize. There's a US$100,000 prize and solid-gold medal for passing a full-sensory "can't be told from a real human" test, that no computer has ever come close to winning; and there's a US$25,000 prize and silver medal for passing a text-only "can only sometimes be told from a real human" test, that no computer has ever come close to winning. And then there's a US$2,000 prize each year for being the computer that did the least embarassingly badly while failing to win the real prize.

The official Loebner Prize site, oddly, hasn't been updated yet with the results of the 2001 competition, but you can read a really bad story about it here: 'Chatterbots' Fail to Fool the Judges. It's really bad because it says dumb things like this:

Computers have lots of data stored in them, but they seem geeky and mechanical when they communicate it, like Spock on "Star Trek." Instead of saying it's about 12:30, a computer might say it's 12:29 and 18 seconds - more accurate, maybe, but not very human.

Thus perpetuating a myth to yet another generation of people who get their science information from Star Trek. Heck, guys, we had a tiny program here at the lab like fifteen years ago that would say things like "It's just past quarter to four". That isn't IMHO the hard part of the problem.

Here's a better quote from the article:

Mr. Loebner expressed disappointment with the overall quality of the programs on display. After the judging, he offered an uncomplimentary one-word description, then amended it, saying: "I see a lot of room for improvement."

What could that one word possibly have been? *8) Some clues can be gotten by studying the winner of this year's consolation prize, A.L.I.C.E..

Here's the offical press release by the winner. It uses "Artificial Intelligence Markup Language", and "over 400 individuals" have contributed to it. If you go to the A.L.I.C.E. homepage, there's a link that will let you speak to the winning program itself. Go try it; it's fun!

It's also abysmally bad. The "I don't know anyone named becoming pretty certain" snippet above is from my brief conversation with A.L.I.C.E. earlier today, and is pretty representative of the quality of the conversation. As far as I can tell, A.L.I.C.E. differs from the ancient Eliza program only in that it has a larger vocabulary. Mention "Eliza", and it will say "Eliza was my ancestor". But say "I'm becoming entirely certain" and...

Here's a slightly less clueless article on the 2001 Loebner. It notes that "ALICE was judged better than a human correspondent only once during the testing". That judge must have been in an Interesting State of Mind. Further:

Worryingly, it appeared not to understand the question "Do you like humans?", responding, "I the c you a? Do I like them?" It then offered to sing a song and refused to open the pod bay doors, behavioural traits that experts predict will be exhibited by most AI programs from now until the heat death of the universe.

Har har! I'm actually pretty sure that we will eventually have programs (computers) that can win the Loebner prize, pass the Turing test, and generally be as human as we (and they) want. But we currently have almost no idea how they'll work, and it will have essentially nothing to do with the trivial template method that A.L.I.C.E. uses.

I'm not sure why A.L.I.C.E. bothers me so much. I guess it's the claims about "Artificial Intelligence", which is IMHO a pretty neat and interesting thing, and a thing that A.L.I.C.E. pretty clearly has absolutely zero of, although its creator is really really eager for people to think that it does.

Ah, well.

(Here's an amusing sidelight about Marvin Minsky's dislike of the Loebner prize, and how he ended up being a "co-sponsor" of it.)

Loebner himself seems to be a rather interesting guy. Interested in artificial intelligence as well as the right to conduct commerce in sex, he points us to an interesting and rather enraging page about a woman jailed for ten years for running an escort service (and not cooperating with local law enforcement to gather information about her clients). A good working example of why it's bad to have laws that are widely broken and "never" enforced: because the local DA can decide to enforce them now and then if someone annoys him.


Another page of digital pictures went up on Saturday. Aren't they lurvely? I've now got over a billion (an American billion, ten to the ninth) bytes of pictures on the hard disk at home; roughly 1400 pictures. I do seem to be slowing down a bit, though! So I may have time to get a CD burner and empty things out before the hard drive fills up and bursts messily all over the playroom.

Examining the technology of the interior of the house reveals a rail gun sufficiently powerful to throw the soft organic Teletubbies to an appreciable height through the roof hatch. The power it must be channeling in order to achieve this would have a spectacular effect on metallic payloads, allowing the installation to disable orbital platforms.

I also put another picture up for photo.net critique in the critique area there. What will the community think?

(That was an obscure music reference.)

Geegaw, from whom I originally stole the idea for the reader-input box, now has another way-cool innovation: an input box that causes the input to show up instantly on the blog page. Why didn't I think of that? Should I do that, too? How would I fit it into the design?

Friday, October 19, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

A day of many errands.

Dentist in the morning. Ouch! Did I mention that when M went to the dentist last, she asked them when I'd last been in, and they looked it up and said it was in 1998? Well, they did, so I had to go this morning. Dental technology is so bl--ding medieval!

"How to attack this problem of malicious bacteria on the teeth? Of course! Scrape the teeth with sharp metal objects!!"


After that, my eyes being still all blurry, I went back to LensCrafters and had the optometrist look at things, and he said that (a) the new glasses really are "a quarter" weaker than the old ones (the two random counter-people to the contrary notwithstanding), and (b) the prescription that I actually need is a touch stronger than the old glasses, and with an astigmatism correction. So I got those, and now I have some of that "whoa!" feeling you get with new glasses, but things aren't fuzzy anymore.

Drug-Crazed ABANDON!

While waiting for the new glasses to be done, I went to SunCoast Video and bought DVDs of "Reefer Madness" and "Metropolis". We'll have to have a Film Festival some evening soon. Or I'll just stay up late curled up with the laptop.

I wonder if stores like Lenscrafters, that with some regularity cause their customers to hang around the Mall and buy stuff at other stores, really do get a discount on the rent?

Picked up and dropped off various children here and there. Took pictures of various things. I keep meaning to make up another digital pictures page, but not getting around to it. Read more of "Inversions", and enjoyed it very much. (Note to self: acquire, at the very least, all of Iain M. Banks' science fiction.)

Got some prints from Mystic, made from some digital pictures I uploaded to them the other day. They look very nice, both at 4x6 (at least as good, and probably better, than normal 35mm 4x6s) and at 8x10 (although the 8x10 was for some reason in black-and-white; I don't recall asking them to do that). So that's another thing the camera does well.

Apropos of which, a reader writes:

By the way, Mystic's prices are ridiculously high. Try dotphoto or snapfish.

The extra cost is perhaps worth it to avoid doing business with places that have such silly names. *8) But thanks for the pointers; maybe I'll try some of them next. For the first experiment I wanted to vary only a single variable; we know Mystic does a good job with our film prints.

Another reader writes:

I know you've admired Noah Grey's site in the past: the best way to help him out now would be to point out that he's selling some of his beautiful photographs.

Consider it pointed out.

And then I could only...

watch the news and complain about the news

sit, stare, and weep

Eventually we have to stand up again, and do.

And then I could only...

say "wow, this page loads so much faster on dial-up when you take those horking images off the bottom of it...."

Hey, I only did that once! I try to keep the images down well under 10K, most days. On dialup, I strongly suggest turning off automatic image loading anywho...

And then I could only...

assume that believing that I was the only sane man left was the final proof that I had gone blessedly insane.

As you know, realizing you're insane is a strong sign of mental health. "There was only one catch..."

And then I could only...


What does "plotz" mean, anyway? (He asked, not doing the obvious thing and looking it up in Google, just for the sake of conversation.) I encountered it mostly in Mad Magazine as a child. "In Blood So Cold You Could Plotz"

And then I could only...

top myself

Is that anatomically possible? (Is that legal?)

And then I could only...

laugh as they claimed they could tell the difference between a WAV and a 384kbps mp3 of it.

They laughed when I sat down at the piano.

And then I could only...

whistle far and wee.

Was it Hagbard Celine who said, "Never whistle while you're pissing"?

(How annoyingly glib we are today!)


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