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What's in your pocket?
Thursday, March 7, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Geek-toys update: WEP is now working at home (so those guys in the van will have to spend a few days cracking the keys), but despite infinite fiddling with drivers I still can't print from the laptop to the playroom printer. Who needs to print stuff, anyway?

Not only is the scanner due to arrive tomorrow, the DSL folks tell me that the modem should arrive today or tomorrow or possibly Saturday also. Hoo-ha! The line might not actually be set up until the 18th, but it might.

The other day Steve wondered aloud how it is that we know anything, how we decide which of the incoming candidate facts to believe. The Web is a great place to pose this question, of course, as there are so many candidate facts and so many good reasons to doubt many of them. It's instructive to watch yourself making these decisions, and to see what sorts of techniques you use. Are they good techniques? Could you improve them?

For instance, here's an endearing little site about St. Pierre and Miquelon, the only remaining French possession in North America. Now day before yesterday, I would have told you with some certainty that there were no French possessions in North America, and at least at first glance it might be reasonable to assume that this is one of those elaborate hoaxes.

Now yesterday's link to the Miquelon entry in the CIA World Fact Book might give you some assurance, but consider the CIA World Fact Book entry on Grand Fenwick. Not real? How do you know?

For instance again, here's the website of the U. S. Department of Art and Technology. Now yesterday I would have said that there was probably no such U. S. government department, but on the other hand there are so many departments that you never know. Is this real? How do you know?

For instance yet again, day before yesterday at lunch the guys were insisting to me that Fox TV was going to have celebrity boxing, and that one of the first bouts was going to be between Paula Jones and Tanya Harding. Now this is the kind of absurb joke that always flashes around the table at lunch, but it was being presented as true. Could such a silly thing possibly be true? How do you know?

Objective CAML is the programming tool of choice for discriminating hackers.

I got that link to the U. S. Department of Art and Technology, by the way, from Bruce Sterling's weblog, which is apparently still active, and which would still benefit from most of the improvements that I suggested the other month (although at least he's now putting dates on the entries).

And I was reminded of Sterling's weblog when reading a recent worthwhile rant of his: Information wants to be worthless. I haven't finished it yet (too many toys to fiddle with when I could be reading), but it looks like good fun.

From AJL via Steve, the latest hijinks of that Attorney General guy:

Since John Ashcroft became US attorney general last year, workers at the department of justice have become accustomed to his daily prayer meetings, but some are now drawing the line at having to sing patriotic songs penned by their idiosyncratic boss.

I have to admit that this is beginning to go beyond scary rightwing fundamentalist dogmatism, to an almost endearing lunacy. Still, he is in charge of enforcing the laws...

Nude Triplets! (Also Brazil Triplets Nude) The there-linked page is, today, the top hit on Google for both "nude triplets" and "Brazil triplets nude", despite an apparently-memorable Playboy issue that included some triplets from Brazil, nude. (In fact the top two hits on "brazil triplets nude" are pages of mine.) This variant on Google bombing could be called "Google suicide bombing", if it wouldn't be in such awful taste.

Showing an admirable degree of invention on the meanings of "this" and "should", readers opine that this should be a:

Google search box
Soft piece of fresh pink bubblegum.
plat qui se mange chaud.
roadside stand, at which you buy five tomatoes and two bags.
slender woman with short gray hair
refrigerator hum
starship today
thing of the past.
federal appeals court yesterday
dozen other places today
n empty box.
search box
more rational society than it is.

All of which are quite apposite. More extendedly, this should be a:

... bowl of jello, undulating to a tribal percussion in the distance, while Emily and Josephine sit lazily on alternate arms of the large chair, wondering whether to return to the table now or to wait for Jez to return, laughing about the man on the corner and the carrots.

place in which the esteemed David Chess gives a poor review to Fininte and Infinite games.

sunday afternoon, curled in the arms of the one I love, reading the newspaper and drinking strong fresh coffee... But instead, Its thursday and I'm working.

sweet chittering of the legs of innumerable insects as they feed upon the tongues of the unborn.

way to interconnect those tired minds that otherwise would never tangle, for it is in the mix that the truly good shit does happen.

Good shit, indeed! Why does "Finite and Infinite Games" sound familiar? Have I read it? Why should I give it a poor review, in particular?

Time to close, and I still haven't gotten to the bit about the difference between the various corner openings in Tic Tac Toe. (I have some really juicy reader input on the subject, too.) Well, maybe tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 6, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

What's Up?

Not the Canadian dollar. My weight.

I dunno. What IS up? Did you go driving somewhere or something? In maybe Connecticut? Hell, you should see the parking signs in Seattle. "No parking 30 ft. N of this sign." You need a tape measure or something. Oy.

Hey - what's with the reused prompt?

Your 25th High School Reunion

the stratosphere mostly

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

"What's up with going down/in every city and every town" Ah, L7...where have you gone?

Up is the sky, the sun, the mountains but of more relevance is the uptime of my computer (just hours) but also the fact that I can't keep it up: I have maintain ed a server for many years running Debian Linux (Praise the gnuic apt-gettable virgin to the highest) and it's uptime has always been externally interrupted, wh en it moved ISP's it had been up for 2 years and 165 days, at the new ISP it went for 1 year and 7 days and the hill it was on had a power failure, and just recently I had to recompile the kernel (that's another long story) and it had been up for 109 days. Moral of the story: Don't use computers as an excuse for your inability to get it up!


My 25th High School Reunion? Lesee, seventy seven plus twenty-five... Good lord! I wonder if they're having one?

Is this the first time I've re-used an input box trigger? (Please write in Number Two Pencil only.)

"I will give you the sigil, but there is a condition. I will give you the sigil only if the world knows that I have given it to you, only if the world knows that you have defeated the monster Trigna because I gave you the sigil, only if this is proclaimed in every town square in your kingdom, and only if a monument to this is erected in the plaza before your grand palace of Justice."

The General bowed, for what else could he do, and she went into her cave, and came out with the Sigil, and the General took it, holding it away from his face as it glowed and sparked in his fingers, and went away into the night.

Jervais turned himself back into the form of a man, and stood beside her, watching the army moving away across the dark valley.

"Do you think he will fulfill your condition?"

Her eyes gleamed black as she smiled at him.

"Oh, I hope not."

So things worked! I plugged the new USB hub into the playroom computer, and plugged the old Lego Studios toy camera into that, and took a picture of myself, and that worked. Then I plugged the new Ethernet card into the playroom computer, and I plugged the new Linksys router thing's power cord into the wall, and I plugged a new cable between them, and Lo the web browser on the playroom computer could see the admin interface to the router. Then I fiddled with the 802.11b settings on the router and the laptop, pushed the wireless card into the laptop, and Lo the laptop could see both the router and the other computer.

A little more fooling around, and the playroom machine could browse the little web browser that I brought up on the laptop, and the laptop could mount (sorry "net use") the other machine's hard disk. Pings worked, and DHCP worked, and lots of things worked. A little more fooling around and I found the correct "don't be such an idiot" checkbox in the bowels of Windoze to make AOL stop randomly starting up on the playroom machine and trying to dial the phone every thirty seconds or so (sheesh).

Things that still don't work:

  • Trying to print from the laptop to the printer on the playroom machine causes that printer to crash entirely and be unusable until something reboots (I probably have the wrong something driver something),
  • Trying to access a share (even a wide-open share, and for that matter even an nonexistent share) on the laptop from the playroom machine causes a password prompt that no password I can think of will satisfy,
  • I haven't gotten WEP to work yet, so all my wireless traffic is exposed to that suspicious-looking van parked out front,
  • The ancient version of Netscape (4.5?) on the playroom machine doesn't always get along with the http server on the router, so I was forced to use (arg!) IE instead.

But soon I'll get WEP working, and the DSL modem will come, and the DSL line will be set up, and I'll be able to download Opera 6 to the playroom machine, and stay up all night surfing the web with my eyes glazed over, and everything will be wonderous and shiny!


New internet draft, about how the Good Guys should proceed when they find a security bug: Responsible Vulnerability Disclosure Process.

An Apathy page about computation and consciousness which I logged when it first came out, but I'm logging again because I noticed it again.

A weblog devoted to news about formerly-free services switching to not-free, and

A whole site about how to network your home (what a lot of little niches!).

Did you know that there's a French possession in North America? I didn't.

Why you should fall to your knees and worship a librarian.

Various tic tac toe topics are queued up, including the previously hinted-at "pass" move, and the difference between "1. a1" and "1. c3", but I find I'm out of steam. I will go fiddle obsessively with my new toys for awhile more (and the scanner's scheduled to arrive on Friday!), and I'll come back like tomorrow or so. Okay?

Tuesday, March 5, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Sinker sucker socks pants
Apocryphal awry
Foreign turnkey blank boards
Bagged inner pyre.

The first shipment of geek toys (Linksys Router with Ears, Ethernet card for the playroom machine, cables, etc) has arrived from Amazon! So if the Gods smile upon me, sometime this evening I will have the laptop and the playroom machine talking to each other through the luminiferous aether. Talking to the wider universe is promised by the 18th.

I got this from Blogdex, so you've probably already seen it, but still:

The computers needed to read the discs of the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project are now obsolete.

While the original Domesday Book compiled in 1086 is in fine condition in the Public Record Office, Kew.

In the "emerging world sports" category, Bill points us to this Rock Paper Scissors grudge match; the reader commentary is extensive and interesting (psychologically, at the very least). Note the story of the Vietnamese variant that includes "nail" and "well". A top-of-the-head analysis suggests that the variant devolves immediately to a game exactly isomorphic to the usual RPS, but I might have forgotten to carry a one somewhere or something...

Without a peep of promotion, it has become the most popular cosmetic medical procedure in the United States, even though it involves injecting the neurotoxin that causes botulism directly into muscles in the face.

From Robert Thau, an interview with Vernor Vinge that talks about, among other things, a real-life incident that helped inspire "True Names".

The Sad Story of Ars Digita, and an even sadder story.

A slightly different Microsoft security bulletin: seems that Office for Mac OS X has a nifty little feature where the apps periodically broadcast to the network "here I am and here's my ID!", and if one ever hears anyone with the same ID broadcasting, it shuts down. Turns out there's a bug in the listener, and a specially-formed announcement will crash the Office app that's listening.

(I would think you could also write a cute little program that would listen for such broadcasts, and periodically send out echoes that would look like an app with the same ID running, causing the original apps to shut down, without having to exploit any programming flaws in the listener. But what do I know?)

Another example of how lovely it is to have software on your computer that actually has someone else's interests at heart. Sheesh!

Featured input box: Did you hear a noise?

No. Only a click. Clack.

heavily onioned beef Drive : put that in google... 1-result, lets see you do that: candling dross

virgin freebsd



Now not all of those are, strictly speaking, about noises, but we're easy. Licorice beer, in particular, can cover a multitude of sins.

Monday, March 4, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

A reader (or at least a writer) writes, in part:

Dear Sir,
  My name is ChenHua, and I'm writing on behalf of the China-Lutong mechanical company. Located in the south east of China, we specialize in hydraulic heads for the VE distributor pump.

So if you're looking for hydraulic heads for the VE distributor pump, just look up ChenHua. Tell him I sent you.

"You've been a Wyoming cattle rancher, a Grateful Dead lyricist and an Internet guru. Which career did you enjoy most?"

"I liked being a rancher more than anything else. I'd still be doing it if there were any conceivable way to afford it."

Licorice update: Steve mentions sweetnostalgia.com, which (after searching on the obvious thing) leads us to the American Licorice Company.

In related news, I can report that while "Teenee Beanee Licorice Jelly Beans" don't taste all that strongly of real licorice, they do have a sort of sweetly bitter taste that I remember being deeply ambivalent about as a kid, and they do make your tongue sort of black.

While looking into this subject, we came across a rather disturbing FAQ:

11. What's this about "Adult" Peeps?

Because we're really smart: that ftrain guy is apparently the one who did the very cool Steve's Web Page, the site of the Steve guy who played Steve on Blue's Clues. It's slightly insane, so take a look. Mind the squirrels. And the lobsters.

We are extremely pleased to announce that the davidchess.com store now sells buckets hats and tote bags featuring our distinctive logo (as well as old favorites like T-shirts and mugs). Invest today! Every bucket needs a hat.

Wanna Play?

On a related note, avid consumers and Tic Tac Toe fans are sure to enjoy The International Center for Tic Tac Toe Online Store. Pick up mugs, shirts, coasters, tote bags, and even a strange plush rabbit, all proudly displaying the ICTTT's eye-catching "Wanna Play?" logo. Sure to be a hit at parties!

On the same general subject, a reader writes nostalgically:

I remember a program somebody showed me in the late 60s or early 70s when I was first with IBM. It probably came from your part of IBM, not mine. I was in sales. What it did was play tic-tac-toe . . . badly. It knew it couldn't put an O on top of your X, but not much else. At first it was easy to beat, but it kept track of wins and losses. It didn't like to lose and tried to avoid losing strategies. Eventually you couldn't win. The key was not that it could play tic-tac-toe, but that it could learn from experience. Not bad for the time.

Neat! Tic tac toe is definitely a good task for learning programs; we'll have to have a page on the ICTTT megasite about tic tac toe programs and learning strategies. I can well believe that a program like that could eventually become a passable player although, as in chess, it's an interesting theoretical question how long it'd take before "you couldn't win". Remember, the universe is only about ten to the sixteenth seconds old!   *8)

Over the weekend I put together a little CGI script that plays the "misere" versions of the game: the first player to get three in a row loses. Give it a try! It's not bad, but of course a skilled human player probably won't have much trouble tripping it up.

We should have a page on the megasite about the misere game, also, but I find I don't know much about it. Is anyone aware of any formalization of the rules of the game, any tournaments using the misere rules, or anything along those lines?

A couple more random Tic Tac Toe links: here's a nice simple implementation of the game, with three levels of difficulty, and here are some scores of actual humans playing against some online program. (That should help silence those who claim that a computer can easily play a "perfect game"!)

On the occasional Rock Paper Scissors thread, it's good to see how active the World RPS Society bulletin boards are; see this interesting account of the 2002 Pan Am RPS Games for instance. We should have such an active online community for Tic Tac Toe!

Reader pTang also points out this report on a(n) RPS tournament between computer programs; some neat stuff there.

All sorts more stuff to talk about next time: things you suspect, things this should be, things that are up, the history of the "pass" move in Tic Tac Toe, are all EDGEs created equal, stuff I've been reading lately, the progress of the geek toys toward my house, and so on. So don't touch that dial!

Friday, March 1, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Making the rounds: a boat goes under a bridge.

So I get these annoying spams from "Stockscape Technologies" hyping various stocks (probably as part of pump-and-dump scams). In the latest one, I noticed there was a "change your email address" link at the bottom of the spam. So I changed it from "chess@us.ibm.com" to "enforcement@sec.gov". I wonder if that'll actually work? *8)

On my way into the Club to Lift Heavy Things this morning, I came across this shiny round thing lying on the ground in the parking lot. It was shiny and round and silver, and on its shiny round silver face were a number of elegantly curved scratches and well-placed nicks. Quite a work of art, or a message from some runic aliens. I wanted it, but I left it there, in case it belonged to someone who might come back looking for it.

I already have too many things anyway.

Driving up Interstate 95 in southern Georgia, there are all these very neat flat brown rivers that the highway bridges over; flat brown rivers with winding clear channels embedded in wide (sometimes very wide, sometimes wide enough to have islands with towns on them) expanses of swamp grass waving flatly in the breeze, and ripples on the water, and hummocks. I love the idea of taking a boat out on that flat water (I talked about the rivers on the phone to Dad after we got back, and he says that he loves the idea of taking a boat out on that flat water), and I wonder (since I can't do that just now, or I on balance don't want to) if someone has done that and written a good book about it.

Anybody know of a good book about being in a boat on flat brown rivers in the southeastern U.S.?

More Mysteries of the reflog: it contains no links to anything on my site and so had no business in the referer log, but it's one of the few "what X are you?" tests that I've actually bothered to take lately; this says that I'm a Chaotic Good Half-Elf Bard Ranger. Which I find very flattering.

My programming style, most days, is to put off the hard part of a project as long as possible. I'll write a test harness, stub routines, scaffolding, even documentation, and leave the actual solving of the problem for last (which means that the program looks as though it's working quite early in the process, and that once I finally do solve the nub problem, I'm done).

That being the case, I really love recursive routines. When you write a recursive routine, you diddle around with the easy stuff first, writing simple end-conditions and incrementers, and then when it's time to finally buckle down and solve the core problem, you just call yourself. And that actually works.

Here's a routine I wrote last night:

sub cleverness($$) {
  my ($myb,$hisb,$m,$b) = (@_,0,-100);
  for my $h ( 7,56,448,73,146,292,273,84 ) {
    return (0,1) if ($myb & $h) == $h;
    return (0,-1) if ($hisb & $h) == $h;
  for my $q (1..9) {
    next if (($myb | $hisb) & (1<<($q-1)));
    my $n = 0 - (cleverness($hisb,($myb|(1<<($q-1)))))[1];
    ($m,$b) = ($q,$n) if $n>$b;
  return $m ? ($m,$b) : ($m,0);

I never actually had to code the cleverness at all; when I needed it, I just called myself as though I'd already done the hard work! Recursion is a cute trick; it's amazing we're allowed to get away with it.

But all that has nothing to do with Tic Tac Toe!

A reader writes:

I am most disappointed with your tic-tac-toe documentation. As you yourself pointed out, there are nine squares, all of which are different. But then you go and report moves like [Edge]. There are FOUR edges, all of which are DIFFERENT! Please adopt a more reasonable notation system.

Now this is of course one of the great controversies in the tic tac toe world: choosing between the standard and the algebraic notations (and I suspect that this posting is in fact a disingenuous little prod from an algebraist).

The standard notation (which the algebraists prefer to call the "traditional" notation) gives the minimal possible information to reconstruct a game, or any other game in the equivalence class produced by ignoring reflections and rotations. Algebraic notation, on the other hand, gives a row-column coordinate for each move (upper left corner is "a1", righthand edge is "b3", and so on).

Algebraic notation is more straightforward, and certainly lends itself better to computer implementation, where a board position might be represented as an array, or even as a pair of integers treated as bit-vectors. On the other hand, it requires choosing a prefered orientation; if the players are seated on opposite sides of the board (as is normal in European matches) whose view should be annotated? The usual answer is simply to label the board as seen by X, but proponents of the standard notation scoff at this.

Standard notation, on the other hand, is position (and even reflection) independant. This captures the meaning of the moves more accurately, especially early in the game; even a thoroughgoing algebraist will refer casually to "an [EDGE] opening". Its main disadvantage is that it can be difficult to master completely. While interpretation is easy in the majority of cases, there are many moves where the correct reading of the terms "opposite" and "adjacent" rely on a subtle notion of saliency that, while unambiguous to experienced players, can strike beginners as needlessly obscure. And for a very few moves, the standard notation becomes unavoidable messy.

o-- -x- o-x

The position above might have been reached by [CORNER] [OP.CORNER]; [CENTER] [CORNER] in standard notation, or c3 a1; b2 c1 in algebraic. If X's next move were to be the (rather ill-advised) righthand edge square, the algebraic notation is a simple "b3?".

But standard notation has difficulty in differentiating between the right and upper corners. That entire quadrant of the board is "opposite" in saliency to O's last move. The usual notation here is the rather ad-hoc "[OP.EDGE(XC)]?", indicating that opposite edge which is closest to a corner occupied by X. But the aesthetics are questionable.

We will definitely have to have a page on the Tic Tac Toe portal site about notational conventions! (Although I imagine that most of the site will use standard notation; it's just so deeply ingrained in the culture.)

Any suggestions on a name for the site? I'm thinking, say, "World Tic Tac Toe Forum", or something modest and unassuming like that.

In related news I note that the Brunching Shuttlecocks have a very spiffy Play by Mail Rock Scissors Paper game on their site. Have at it!


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