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Thursday, March 28, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

A reader reports a new Mia sighting!

The ambivalent winter had brought two unusual events. The first was an unexplained mass migration of beetles. The second was the arrival of a young woman with sad eyes named Mia to the small town of Henders, where she set up shop selling pastel colored tallow candles just before Easter. It was not known if these two events were connected.

(It would be gauche, I suppose, to ask if both of her eyes were named Mia, or just one.)

Number o' the Day: Champernowne's constant.

I have a directory called "/d" on this computer here (even with path-completion in the shell, I like short names; I keep my temporary files in "/t"), and in "/d" I keep three files: a to-do list, a bunch of things that might eventually end up in the log, and a few lines per day of everything that I do that might sound good in an annual "how clever I am" report.

I don't actually look at "/d" itself very often, but I did the other day, and there in "/d" was a fourth file, called "j". This file, "/d/j", is fifty-eight bytes long, it's dated 1 April 2001, and it says:

Flirting with Alison

Talking about owning the Bay

I wonder what I meant by that? I don't think I even know anyone named Alison that I might flirt with. How odd.

Naughty Things: From Dan Lyke, two thought-provoking items: Actual Cases Demonstrating the Beneficial Effects of the Availablity of Sexually Explicit Materials (you might want to load that with images off if you're in a Puritanical environment), and Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? (which finds that violent porn can make violent people more violent, and other people less violent, maybe).

I also found a page of references to the Meese Commission Report and related stuff like that-there.

From Ian to b0rp, to the very bizarre Spam Radio. Background music for the Net.

Anti-CBDTPA Site o' the Day: Digital Consumer dot Org.

And finally, DSL Update: looks like a replacement modem may have arrived! Oh boy oh boy oh bo oh boy oh boy...

Wednesday, March 27, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

On yesterday's Mystery Word, a reader writes:

"Memorizable," silly.

Is that really a word? Is any string that gets only 1,170 hits in Google really a word?   *8)   I guess I'm looking for a word that's more, well, you know...

Along the same lines, a reader points out that:

If there is a word that means "able to be memorized," it unfortunately seems to be heterological.

Where "heterological" means, of course, "not applicable to itself". (And y'all know the Godelian joke? Is "heterological" heterological?)

End Of The World Department:

An asteroid as wide as a Boeing 747 narrowly missed Earth this month -- and we never knew it was coming. The case of asteroid 2002 EM7 has drawn attention to the gaps in the planet's infant system for monitoring potential threats from space.

And similarly:

Antarctica sends 500 billion tonne warning of the effects of global warming; scientists stunned as huge ice shelf falls apart in a month.

More mundane, mere liberty and civilization and stuff: Dan Gillmor: Bleak future looms if you don't take a stand.

And finally the utterly mundane security bug: if you use IE, anyone can poke around your system to see what files are on it. Microsoft is expected to have a fix Soon.

A spammer writes:

== New Report Reveals Lack of Financail Literacy == 472315119765

Some material just writes itself, eh?

A very pretty toy, found by Beth (who also found various other pretty toys).

DSL Update: (I know you all just Live For these) Both my official support folks and the Super Secret Support Strike Team from the Verizon private newsgroup now say that there should be a new modem expressing its way to me by Friday. Neither group seems to know if it's the same modem that the other group's sending, so I may get two. Or three or four! Or, I'm afraid, zero. We'll see...

Tuesday, March 26, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Is there a word that means "able to be memorized"? Not "unlikely to be forgotten whether or not you try to" like "memorable", but "possible to remember if you try". It would describe, for instance certain URLs, but not others. *8)

It's baaack! The latest head of the Hydra:

The bill, called the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), prohibits the sale or distribution of nearly any kind of electronic device -- unless that device includes copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.

See various comments on this awful idea, and even add your own.

DSL Update: Scott, from the super-secret private newsgroups on the Verizon NNTP server, says that someone should be calling me today to arrange an "advance replacement" for the modem, which I expect means they wouldn't wait to get the old one back before sending me a new one. We'll see!

Latest book: Greg Egan's "Distress". A good book, lots of fun and interesting and convincing technology extrapolation in the setting and the characters' daily lives.

The Über-plot was kinda implausible, but still fun. The book is in the "ordinary human takes advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics to create the universe" subgenre; ref Rudy Rucker's "Master of Space and Time" (and for that matter a bit of Egan's own "Quarantine"). A hard trick to do really well, but I like reading good attempts, even when I'm not completely convinced.

There's no reason, really, that there shouldn't be a loophole somewhere. I often think, when designing universes in my head (for possible computer implementation when I get all that free time that's owed to me), that it'd be neat to have a sort of Control Center up on an inaccessible mountain somewhere, with buttons or knobs that any entity could use to make (smallish, safe-ish) changes to the laws of physics. What reason do we (I) have to think that there's no such thing in the current universe?

On Circuit City v. Adams from yesterday, a reader writes:

A simple explanation of the majority position is "We've agreed for a long time to interpret it this way. Everyone knew that was the standard. Stick to it."

Which is indeed a fair summary of part of the majority's argument. The dissent, though, argued (pretty convincingly, I thought) that that was only true if you narrowed your definition of "everyone" to exclude a bunch of statements to the contrary.

At least some of the people involved in drafting the original Act seem to have intended the exclusion clause to exclude employment contracts in general, and various courts since then have found that way (while others have not).

So I dunno. But it's fun to cogitate about!

Monday, March 25, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

A partial list of the holy grails of various fields.

Entirely Fictional

"Why did you buy two boxes of toothpicks?"

"They were cheap, and I thought this way we could put the extra box away somewhere, so next time we run out we could use the extra box until we bought some more. Like the spare gas tank in old Volkswagons."

"So where should we keep this extra box?"

"I dunno, somewhere obscure. How about in that little triangular drawer behind the cereal?"

"I'd forgotten there was even a drawer back there."

"Yep, it's a little stuck. There!"

"Is there anything in there?"

"Uh, yeah in fact there is."

"What is it?"

"Four boxes of toothpicks."

Today's featured U. S. Supreme Court Decision is Circuit City Stores v. Adams (2001). It came up because someone mentioned on a list that I read that they'd been looking at an employment contract, and they were nervous because it included a mandatory arbitration clause; if any dispute came up about the contract, he wouldn't be able to sue, he'd only be able to go to binding arbitration. This sort of clause, he said, had been upheld by a recent Supreme Court decision.

Circuit City v. Adams starts out slow, but it gets more interesting. It seems that back in the early XXth century, arbitration was becoming popular as a quicker and cheaper alternative to lawsuits. At least some courts, however, weren't very friendly to the idea of arbitration (didn't like the competition?), and even if a contract called for arbitration in the case of disputes, some courts would ignore that clause, and allow a party to sue.

To avoid this effect and allow / encourage arbitration to work, Congress in 1925 passed the Federal Arbitration Act. This Act says that courts are required to respect and enforce arbitration agreements in any contract "involving commerce", except for "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of worker engaged in foreign or interstate commerce".

The reason for all these references to "commerce" is because back in the innocent 20's, people took the Commerce Clause of the Constitution more seriously. Article 1 section 8 says that "The Congress shall have Power... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes".

While nowadays we realize that this really means "Congress shall have power to regulate anything it wants to", back in 1925 people thought it was really restricted to interstate commerce. So the Federal Arbitration Act was written to say that courts have to respect arbitration agreements in contracts (involving commerce), except for employment contracts (involving commerce).

Over the years, as Congress discovered it could get away with a broader and broader construal of the Commerce Clause, that first "(involving commerce)" has pretty much become void; what doesn't involve commerce, after all? But that second "(involving commerce)", the one in the part about how the FAA basically doesn't apply to employment contracts (involving commerce), that one has stayed around.

Some lower courts have interpreted it more broadly, too, holding that the FAA doesn't apply to employment contracts at all, but the Supremes, in Circuit City v. Adams and two or three decisions before it, has avoided this interpretation, holding basically that while the FAA itself applies to contracts in just about any kind of commerce, the exclusion clause only excludes employment contracts where the employees are doing interstate transportation. Which seems completely illogical to me!

To be fair, this is the case as seen by the dissent in Circuit City v. Adams (it was a 5-4 decision, apparently). The reasoning behind the majority opinion is harder to summarize, having to do with fine distinctions of language, and the legal history of the law. Looks to me like the law was clearly intended to exclude employment contracts of all kinds, and the majority is just logic-chopping.

So if a prospective employer ever wants you to sign a contract that requires you to go to binding arbitration rather than suing in the event of a dispute, know that Federal law, just barely, supports their right and ability to require this of you.

DSL Update: a Verizon guy came to the house this morning, right on time, and fiddled around. He had lots of knowledge and experience about telephone wiring, and only a little about DSL (he didn't know what a "packet" was, and kept referring to the modem as "your DSL"), but he had a DSL test box.

He ran tests with the box, he went up on the pole and fiddled around, he swapped the drop lines for my first and second lines (the second one's been inactive for years) because the line that was being the first line was old and spliced and corroded. He moved all the wires from one pair of poles to the other on the lightning protector in the basement, because the pair that we were using was a little corroded. On his test box in the basement (except for once or twice when he couldn't get sync at all), he found a DSL signal doing like 680mbps down and 250mbps up, which is fine.

So the "my modem is broken" theory was looking really good. He called in and reported, and said that someone would be calling me. Once he'd been gone for a couple of hours, I called them, and they said that they'd have to talk to the Central Office and get back to me someday. Yawn!

A neighbor dropped by a little later so his daughter could pick up something she'd left here last week, and I had a brainstorm. This neighbor has DSL, too, and he has a white Westell Wirespeed modem just like mine. The neighbor was glad to lend me his for ten minutes. And guess what?

With the neighbor's modem in place, I got through to the Access Concentrator first try.


So I called Verizon and reported this new finding, and the person put me on hold and then cut me off and didn't call back.

So I called Verison again and reported this new finding, and the person said that someone would be calling me "within 24 hours" to arrange for a replacement modem. He thinks that I have to return the old one before they can send me a new one.


So I expect I'll be calling them tomorrow, and explaining patiently that they will send the new one out immediately, and I will at the same time send the broken one back.

Some customer service outfits have no clue at all about customer service, y'know?

Friday, March 22, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.

Darn straight! Somebody should tell that to the Attorney General!!

Oh, wait.

The universe in 42 categories; I consider myself mostly 7, 9, and 28. Oh, and of course 41 and 42.

Computers are so weird. While fiddling around trying to get DSL working (it's still not working, BTW; someone is coming out on Monday morning to take a look at the line; my current theory is that the very first guy I talked to on Monday night was right, and they sent me a bad modem), the Tier Two Guy had me deinstall the "AOL Adapter" and "AOL Dial-up Adapter" from the playroom machine.

"Will this break AOL?" I asked? Definitely, he said, but I could just re-install it from the CD and everything would be fine.

So I deinstalled them and fiddled around futilely trying to get DSL to work for awhile, and then after I'd said goodbye to the Tier Two Guy I decided to fire up AOL before re-installing, just to see how it'd break (insatiable curiosity and all).

It worked just fine.

So what were those "adapters" for, and why had they been installed? Something to do with the Mind Control Lasers, I imagine.

Similarly, when trying to get DSL working with the laptop, he had me uninstall the IBM Global Dialer Thing, after I said I was willing to reinstall it again afterward to be able to get in to work via the plain old dialup. After we'd given up there I just for a lark tried to get into work without reinstalling it, and it also worked just fine.

(I suspect the thing I use to get into work is really the AT&T Net Client, and the IBM Global Dialer Thing is some previous-version vestige. But I thought I'd already uninstalled all those vestiges.)

I remember once when I was a kid, I wanted some thing to talk to some other thing (a little crystal radio to a big speaker or something), and my Dad showed me how to put together this flimsy network of wires and clamps and resistors, and Lo the sound came from the speaker.

But I didn't think that the flimsy static network of wires could really have anything to do with the sound, so I reached out and unclipped one of the connections.

And the sound continued just fine.

Dad frowned at the network for a second, and said Oh yeah that's just a ground-return, you don't really need it. And I reached out and undid another connection and this time the sound stopped.

But it left an impression on me; lots of the stuff that works would keep working even if various bits of it were removed. Sometimes this is useful redundancy; other times its little agents of the orbital mind control lasers.

Farber, pgn, and Weinstein: get rid of ICANN.

Today's security hole is on the Mac for a change. As usual, though, it's caused by various bits of software being Too Clever By Half.

"Oh, the user has touched a compressed file, I'd better decompress it; Oh, the user has created a virtual disc image, I'd better mount it; Oh, the user has mounted a disc containing an 'autostart' program, I'd better run it".

Ka-pow, and ka-zing.

I just finished Genome by Matt Ridley. It was pretty good, a little superficial and non-technical, but lots of cool anecdotes about genes and geneticists. The last chapter is called "Free Will", and I didn't have very high expectations for it, but it said good things. Of course maybe I liked it for more or less echoing my own thoughts, that free will and determinism aren't necessarily incompatible:

Freedom lies in expressing your own determinism, not somebody else's. It is not the determinism that makes a difference, but the ownership. If freedom is what we prefer, then it is preferable to be determined by forces that originate in ourselves and not in others.

So there you are.

Words to live by (most links mine):

drink, feck, arse! - and more Anglo-Saxonly, "bollocks"

Eat. Drink. Breathe. Excrete. Avoid diseases, predators and violent accidents. Do not grow old.

Thalidomide. Greeting cards. Secrets told to someone underaged. Klein bottles. The residue of seductive ideas. A yawn. Quotes. Colors that were intended to be left behind. Barthelme. Barthelyou. Or "Vox"?


Being nice to people really does pay off. It may not be profound, but it's true.

ars digita

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

"Some things in life can't be immediate. Sometimes you've just got to wait and let things happen." From the track "Street Guru" on Nitin Sawnhey's excellent "Prophesy". The quote is sampled from a Chicago cab driver... [Jules]



"If you only ever read one book in your life, I highly recommend you keep your mouth shut." League Against Tedium (aka Simon Munnery) [Jules]

Don't eat yellow snow.

"""""Also, "stone" and "crank" -- surprisingly banal, no?" I asked, adding to thirty more entries along similar lines." I wrote, with disgusting self-consciousness." I wrote, with disgusting self-consciousness." I wrote, with disgusting self-consciousness."


Wanna Play?

"You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results." - Gandhi [Jules - again! Don't worry, that was the last one. And I do try to live by these... okay, maybe not the League Against Tedium one...!]

Mornington Crescent

Action is everything.


Paula Jones


An excellent crop. Although I'm not entirely sure how one'd live by that "hnhhhork" one...


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