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Thursday, January 10, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Note that neither tradition mentions the knowing subject nor the object of knowledge. Neither talks about a quasi-thing called language which functions as an intermediary between subject and object. Neither allows for the formulation of problems about the nature or possibility of representation or intentionality. Neither tries to reduce anything to anything else. Neither, in short, gets us into the particular binds into which the Cartesian-Kantian, subject-object, representationalist tradition got us.

Is that all that both traditions are good for? Are all these eminent thinkers simply showing us the way out of a dusty fly-bottle, out of a dilapidated house of Being? I am strongly tempted to say, "Sure, What more did you think you were going to get out of contemporary philosophy?"

That's Rorty in the Introduction to "Essays on Heidegger and Others". It's nice to be reading good philosophy again; we'll see how long I can keep it up. (I still get all too annoyed about that whole Chinese Room thing of Searle's; and that was like 22 years ago!)

I noticed in my error logs the other day that people had tried to run a "formmail.cgi" and a "formmail.pl" on davidchess.com. Poking around the Web a bit, it seemed likely that they were spammers looking for the insecure version of the formmail script, to send anonymous mail through (and in fact that this hole in the formmail script explains all the spam I've been getting lately that says "below is the result of your feedback form" in it).

So I wrote a formmail.cgi (and the Web Host Support Person nicely aliased formmail.pl to it also), that simply sends email to me whenever anyone invokes it, telling me the data they were passing to it.

Over night, the very first night the script was up, it was hit twice. Both cases seem to be attempts to send mail from one throwaway free email address to another, where the body of the mail is just the URL of my formmail script. So presumably when the spammer gets one of these back to him in email, he takes the URL from the body, assumes that it must be an open insecure formmail script, and uses it to pump out mass quantities of spam.

This suggests certain possibilities.

I can easily send a piece of mail that looks like what an insecure open formmail script would have sent, except that the body contains whatever URL I want rather than the address of my own script. I could send a piece of mail that would suggest the presence of an open formmail script on, say, nsa.gov, or ftc.gov, or mail-abuse.org. Safer but less amusing, I could send him to "i-am-an-idiot.com". also suggests itself. Or some of each!

What do y'all readers suggest? I could also ignore the whole thing, of course, but where's the fun in that?

Microsoft stuffs the ballot box, sending numerous bogus votes for .NET to a ".NET v. Java" poll. I find it especially amusing that part of the evidence for this was provided by a privacy hole in Exchange:

Several of the voters evidently followed a link contained in an email, the subject line of which ran: "PLEASE STOP AND VOTE FOR .NET!" We know this, because our logs include the Web address where visitors browsed from; when people click there from a Microsoft Exchange email message, Exchange helpfully gives us the subject line and username. The people who followed that link all had email addresses in the microsoft.com domain.

The last few days have brought proof-of-concept viruses for both .NET and Flash. Neither is actually going to spread, but both illustrate (to a greater or lesser degree) Yet Another Niche that more significant viruses will probably eventually colonize. Interesting times!

The Patriot Registry, because non-traitors have nothing to hide.

The kid who crashed a plane into a building in Florida was on a controversial medication; this has been true of other perpetrators of nasty incidents as well. The direction of causation is of course unclear: do the medications lead to odd behavior, or do certain conditions lead to both odd behavior and medication? (Of course Accutane is an acne medication...)

Have I given you my mini-rant on the "babies that are picked up more cry more" statistic? Note how different it sounds if you say "babies that cry more are picked up more." Well, duh!

I should just send you over to Inexplicably Fancy Trash (warning: Photoshopped images of naked people in compromising positions) and say that he has good links, but instead I will steal a few of them.

The Chilling Effects clearinghouse is a nascent attempt to systematically gather (and respond to) those really dumb letters that sleazy lawyers like to write to scare people (as foreshadowed in the marvelously-written EFF response to a threat from lawyers for Barney the Dinosaur).

Non-traitors have nothing to hide

The day Ashcroft censored Freedom of Information (have I mentioned lately that I'm not really all that fond of Ashcroft?).

"Consider themselves less geeky than".

Continuing to re-establish my lefty credentials, Don't Gut the Clean Air Act:

Twenty-five years is long enough for the dirtiest power plants to get a free ride from the Clean Air Act. Tell President Bush not to reward his campaign contributors by rolling back the Clean Air Act and to aggressively enforce the law as it was intended by vigorously prosecuting power plants that upgrade without cleaning up.

Yeah! Hmph!

I recommend Ian's survey of the War Powers Act, the actual laws by which Congress has authorized various recent Uses of Armed Force, and so on.

From abuddhas memes, Spider Robinson goes to the 2001 Cannabis Cup.

Oh, when shouldn't you say "backslash", you ask? You shouldn't say "backslash" when you're in a meeting that I'm in, and you're nominally a technical person, and you're talking about one of those lower-left to upper-right things. "aitch tee tee pea colon backslash backslash"... This causes an immediate loss of credibility, and also annoys me no end.

Or I could be grateful for it, as a good aid in Spotting the Clueless. (Am I being too harsh and mean and nasty and elitist here?)

Wednesday, January 9, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So there are all sorts of things in the "consider blogging" file, and various bits of user input queued up and stuff, but I'm just going to talk about baking bread. Because I like baking bread, and you must therefore enjoy reading about it.

Yesterday (the humidifier guy did eventually come and fix the humidifier, by putting a second pin-valve on the pipe leading to the hot-water heater to take over from the previous pin-valve which had apparently become clogged by hard-water minerals; he says that he once saw a pipe with fifteen pin-valves in it, all lined up in a row) I decided to bake a loaf of bread, because it was cold outside, and it'd been entirely too long since I last baked a loaf of bread.

I looked through the various random recipes (recipies) in the "Breads etc" section of the recipe box, but they were all for various fancy breads that I didn't feel like making. I was about to get out one of the bread books to find a good basic wheat-bread loaf, when I thought "now wait; I've been making bread for years and years, surely I don't still need a recipe?". (This thought may be partly explained by my just having had a therapeutic (theraputic) glass of wine.)

So I poured two cups of warm water into a medium-sized bowl (well, really a rather large bowl, but the other year I bought this really enormous bowl, big enough for like four loaves at once, so I think of the normal big bread bowl as only middling), poured in some random amount of sugar, and added one packet of active dry yeast. Went off and did something else for five or ten minutes, and returned to find the water foaming slightly and starting to smell good. Turned the oven on to 170°F ("warm" if the oven had "warm").

Then I opened the tin of white flour and poured some into the water. Stirred it around with a wooden spoon until it was all goopy, and poured in a bit more because it was kind of thin (thought about putting in some whole-wheat flour, but decided to go with all Hecker's Unbleached white). Stirred it around some more until it was all goopy and thick and muddy. Put the spoon in the bowl, ran a clean dishcloth under hot water, put the dishcloth over the bowl (and spoon).

Turned the oven off, and put the covered bowl inside. Went off and did something else for an hour. Got back and took the bowl out of the oven, took off the dishcloth, and the not-yet-dough was all big and soft and bubbly and good-smelling.

Poured in more flour and stirred it in, more and more flour until it wasn't goopy anymore, and looked like bread dough. Cleaned off and floured the marble breadboard (bought on sale the other year because it's got a little chip out of one side; a rather endearing little chip really), and turned the dough onto the board. Kneaded the dough, smearing on some not exactly butter now and then (being too lazy to soften up any real butter). Plunked it back into the bowl, ran the dishcloth under hot water again, put the cloth on the bowl and returned the bowl to the (off but still vaguely warm) oven.

Forty-five minutes later, took the bowl out of the oven, turned the oven to 350°F ("gas number 4"), turned the dough out onto the board where it deflated quite nicely, kneaded it just a bit and shaped it into a loaf, put it into a liberally PAMed bread pan, and put it on top of the oven, with the cloth over it again, to wait for the oven to preheat.

When the oven was hot, took off the cloth, and put the pan into the oven. For the next 50 minutes, while the house filled up with That Smell, looked in on the bread every once in awhile. Cooked some Elio's Pizza on the shelf below for about fifteen minutes somewhere in the middle, for the little boy's dinner.

After fifty minutes, the bread was done. Bread fresh out of the oven is like nothing else. It was 75% gone half an hour later. I had a slice toasted this morning and it wasn't bad at all. But still. The world must have been a very different place when everyone had oven-fresh bread on a regular basis.

Tomorrow: when not to say "backslash". Or something else.

Tuesday, January 8, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Reality is so complicated! Today M has a cold, and I have (had) a conference call in the morning, and someone might be coming later to figure out why the humidifier isn't working (or they might not, because one of their technicians called in sick and the other ones are still hung up on their first jobs of the day), and there's this pane of glass in one of the interior doors of the house that mysteriously broke yesterday (and we don't know how to fix panes of glass), and...

I suppose if the universe weren't such a mass of hacks we wouldn't love it the way we do. But still!

A reader conscientious about intellectual property issues writes:

Another 3 seconds of fame for you (muted) - I'm using 5 of your web art creation as an addition to my 82 jpgs of similar ilk which randomly are choosing to be the background for Eterm (which I have as my semi-normal xterm window) ...Is it ok for me to use your art works for such a purpose? I presume so!

Certainly, do with them what you will! If anyone sees one over your shoulder and offers you a billion dollars for a copy of it, cut me in. (Other interested billionaires can find various bits of visual art on the PICTURES page.)

Deeper than...


sartre, stronger than coffee, I can make you feel REAL, baby!!



Do geese see God?

That last one's nice; I don't recall seeing it before (rats, after all, live on no evil star). Not to denigrate the others (even the ones that were mistaken attempts at searches); how strong is coffee?

(You know what's embarassing? What's embarassing is when you try to do a search on your own web site, and accidentially send yourself feedback instead. Fortunately, no one ever has to know.)

What are you holding?

On our politics entry from the other day, a reader writes:

A friend of mine, Neil deMause, has written an interesting and infuriating book on stadium financing. There is a website for the book with updated information, links to articles he's written, etc. Worth checking out.


Public financing of sports stadia (stadia?) seems like one of the more blatant modern scams. Maybe we'll have a "stadiumgate" one of these days (or is "gate" no longer a viable suffix?).

Unintended Consequences Department: Virus Writers Here to 'Help': if it's illegal to reverse engineer software, and you find a security bug while reverse engineering software, (how) do you report it?

"Some people, especially outside the U.S., think it's now safer to release a worm than make a bug report."

This is of course a silly fear; it's not like the government's been arresting foreigners for violating the DMCA or anything...

The orange battleship is on the cow.

From Apathy (and also geegaw), those rockets scientists at AT&T research have produced Wordseye, a system which can create silly pictures when given silly textual descriptions.

The Parthenon is on the humongous watery floor. The large Pegasus is above the temple. The sky is green.

A very cool hack. And just think of the practical applications!

"Corporations Behaving Badly: The Ten Worst Corporations of 2001". One of my main complaints about your typical (or stereotypical) libertarian is that he (he) trusts corporations entirely too much. Capitalism doesn't mean assuming business can do no wrong. So why is it always (so often) the anti-capitalists who point out the sins of sinning corporations?

(Apologies for the numeric hostname in the URL above; that particular issue of "Multinational Monitor" is for some reason stored on a different host than all the other back issues (some good leftist reading in there). I can't find a hostname for the host in question; at the web root it currently seems to have a backlevel version of Citizen Works, featuring Ralph Nader. Tangled web, innit?)

On the who runs your computer question from the other day, a reader writes:

"Don't you love it when your document processing software makes modifications to your Web browser? "

but office isn't just ms Word -- excel, access... to ensure that people could display docs inside the browser, and html inside the office apps, all needs to be coordinated. important for intranet stuff. I don't say I *agree* with this (being an old HTML internet snob) but I can understand the rationale.

Yeah, this gets back to the interesting and profound something that I touched on in that entry. It's possible to imagine a world in which people's computers are basically run (configured and administered and upgraded) from the outside, by someone else (or by, more feasibly, something else, some automatic process). Where a user of a computer is literally that, someone who sits down at it and does things, without knowing or controlling much about how those things happen. This seems to be Microsoft's vision, with the external thing that's in charge of everyone's computer being of course Microsoft.

This is sort of a Glorious Socialist Future vision, and I think it has the typical problems with that sort of vision. It works only if everyone has the same interests, if the Single Big Entity that controls everyone's computers has everyone's interests at heart, and everyone's interests are compatible. But of course that's not true, that's never true, and so what you get instead is the Party running the country for the good of the Party members, or in the computer field you get Microsoft configuring your system so it will only run Microsoft software and only send your digital images to Microsoft approved photo labs for processing, and only play your digital music if you've paid the monthly fee to your Microsoft Passport account. And that's sort of a bummer. I think people's computers should be working for their owners, not for Microsoft.

So an alternative capitalist solution? Presumably each computer is in charge of itself, and knows and acts in its owner's interests, by making voluntary contractual arrangements with other computers. Which might involve my word processor updating my Web browser, but perhaps only if I've told it I want it to, or (dreaming into the future) only if my computer has thought it over, consulted its internal model of my interests, and decided that it's the right thing to do.

Oooh, look, I've compared Microsoft to a discredited social system! I'd better get over to SlashDot and share this insight with the deep thinkers over here. *8) Which is to say that this is rather drastically oversimplified, but possibly the seed of something interesting. Under what circumstances will it make sense for me to cede what level of control over my computer to some outside agency? Under what circumstances might I do it even though it doesn't in fact make sense for me? Under what circumstances will I have (or not have) better alternatives?

(Of course these questions would also be less urgent if upgrading one part of my computer didn't so often cause some other part to break in mysterious and annoying ways. So there's another challenge...)

Monday, January 7, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Well, discussion of manifold intersections in N-dimensional spaces has certainly caught my readers' interests! Graham Leuschke posted a nice explanation, which I think I almost understand, to the talking place (it's possible to get from Graham's weblog to pictures of commutative algebraists, so you know he's hardcore). And a(nother) reader writes:

In N-space, an X-manifold and a Y-manifold which are non-parallel intersect in a manifold of minimum order (X+Y-N). (If X+Y-N is negative, they may not intersect at all, e.g. two lines in 3-space). Don't ask me to prove it, though. Oh wait, maybe I can at least work out an informal proof. An X-manifold in N-space is specified algebraicly by (N-X) equations. (Examples: a plane in three-space is specified by one equation: z=ax+by+c; while a line in three-space is specified by two equations: y=ax+b, z=cx+d.) So specifying an X-manifold and a Y-manifold in N-space gives you (N-X)+(N-Y) = 2N-X-Y equations in N variables, which specifies an [N-(2N-X-Y)]-manifold, i.e., a (X+Y-N)-manifold as long as (X+Y-N) is non-negative and the individual manifolds are non-parallel.

Now I can confidently illustrate the "two volumes meeting at a point in a 6-space" thing: just consider V the points where x1, x2, and x3 are all zero (that's a volume, since x4, x5 and x6 can each and severally be whatever you want them to), and consider W the points where x4, x5, and x6 are all zero (a volume because x1, x2, and x3 can be whatever); these intersect at (and only at) the origin ( 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0 ). So there you are.

I don't quite grok the "an X-manifold in N-space is (N-X) equations" bit. Is that true for any equations at all? Seems too simple (although I'm not alert enough at the moment to think of a puzzling example).

So you want to be a marine biologist?

This is the verbal equivalent of reaching down your throat, pulling out your own intestines, wrapping them around your neck and choking yourself. When we hear this our impulse is to thwack you a good one on your keester with the frozen haddock we keep within arm's reach just for this occasion.

We mentioned the other year that they want to fingerprint every person in the world. Well, now they also want to embed radio chips in currency. Perhaps they've been reading too much conspiracy fiction.

Speaking of conspiracies... (widely spammed)

Here's a website about a P3P code that means "the P3P codes on this page don't actually mean anything". How meta.

From abuddhas memes, a blog about the Singularity. On the other hand, it's on a Manila site, one that claims to be run by the President and COO of UserLand Software. Radio UserLand as a step toward the PostHuman? Well, they said it was going to get strange...

Speaking of which, I've been reading Ken MacLeod books, as also mentioned in 2001. I have mixed emotions (his posthumans are way too easy to kill off, so far), and I will no doubt expound at length (or not) when I'm done with the whole set of novels.

We took the little daughter downcounty over the weekend to take a special test for smart people (notice how I subtly worked that fact in in the context of something else, so as to avoid appearing to brag?), and she sat in front of a computer for a whole hour taking the test, and the computer didn't crash once! I was impressed. (She did say that on one question the graph was badly formatted and you couldn't read the labels on the axes; so my faith in the reliability of computers isn't entirely shaken.)

Now she wants me to teach her Perl.

Friday, January 4, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Okay, so the Discover Card joke has maybe run its course. I thought it was pretty funny! (And the words "Discover Card" were certainly at least as prominent as the "2002" on the sign in Times Square.)

I'm not very good at visualizing spaces with more than three dimensions. This distresses me.

Is there an N such that you can have two planes (two 2-manifolds) in an N-space, and those two planes intersect at exactly one point? If so, what is the smallest such N?

I was trying to figure this out in the shower this morning, and I couldn't do it. Let alone higher-order questions: what's the smallest N in which two volumes (3-manifolds) can intersect at a point? At a line?

At lunch today people were pretty sure that two planes can intersect at a point in 4-space, and I did finally come up with an example:

Consider Cartesian space-time, a nice clean 4-space. Plane A is a line that exists forever. Plane B is a plane that exists for only a single instant (time T); at time T, Plane B intersects Plane A (the line that is the time T slice of Plane A) at a single point. Plane A and Plane B are 2-manifolds in a 4-space that intersect at a single point.

Since clearly ("clearly") two planes can't intersect at a single point in 3-space, the answer to the first question above is "4".

Steve's pretty sure that a 6-space is the smallest in which two volumes can intersect at a point, and I believe it, but I couldn't prove it.

Does anyone have (any URLs for) a good set of thumb-rules (or thumb-screws) or visualization tricks or clarifying laws or equations for this sort of question? It really shouldn't be this hard!

Surely my mind is a thing of pure thought, unconstrained by the dimensionality of the physical space that it happens to be embodied in this time around? So why can't I think in six dimensions?

(When I was a kid I got four "three dimensional tic-tac-toe" sets, and tried to persuade people to play the 4D version of the game with me. I didn't get many takers, which was probably just as well, since I suspect I wouldn't have been all that good at it.)


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