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Tuesday, July 16, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

We are greatly blessed; some Treasured Reader has praised us on a Scarlet Letters forum. Referer logs are indeed good for the soul. (Or perhaps bad for the soul; all that pride stuff.)

One of Steve's Treasured Readers uses the phrase "Prince Albert on a Raft". It is of course Adam and Eve (the poached eggs) on the raft. "Prince Albert" may be some reference to the suggestion that we recommended you ignore yesterday (we recommend that you continue ignoring it).

A really long time ago we asked y'all to tell us something, and many of you did, and now through the miracle of Television we can pass those somethings back out to you (at the rate Reader Input is building up, I'll be able to use it for kitchen remodeling sometime next month).

Presented without comment (Googlings left to the student):

I now have 1,728 photos. Perhaps the next should be Ramanujan-themed.

Magic markers may be illegal under the DMCA

broadband on airplanes? Look for FAQ list on www.connexionbyboeing.com

From the mouth of a neuroscientist, "All inhibition is local".

a picture of a log house


hound dogs ain't got no bones to chew

the owls are not what they seem

I don't know...? No. Wouldn't that be too easy?

clams got legs

They didn't let Nash speak at the Nobel acceptance ceremony - they were afraid he would turn out to be a loony.

I don't know.

So you're one of those, eh?

You forgot to close the Monday italics.

I ran across San Francisco last Sunday. In the pouring rain. Naked. Well, I did have socks, shoes, and a cap on... but those don't count. You should try it sometime: it's quite amazing. But not in the rain.

My favorite spam subject line of the week: "HELLO $NAME"

I think we're going to try and have a baby. Updates as events warrant.

Speaking of laws: http://www.nwi.org/Laws/EagleProtSummary.html My brother has a small dairy farm in Wisconsin and he and his daughter raise a few ducks. Lately an eagle has been swooping down and taking the ducks. Under the law, my brother is not permitted to frighten the eagle away. If during an eagle attack my brother's dog rushes out and barks at the eagle, my brother is liable and may be fined up to $10,000. So far he has lost five ducks, including the one his daughter planned to show at the county fair this summer. Okay, maybe eagles are more important than ducks -- I don't know -- but what if the eagle attacks a child?

And more extensively, from quite possibly Ed:

Having a policeman follow you around is what the 3rd amendment is all about (quartering of troops). 300 years ago it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that troops should be allowed to live rent free in your house. Today it's shifted -- some people feel software agents should live rent free in your 'puter, but no one would tolerate troops. I wonder precisely where "the people" draw the line.

Cars never refused to start without seatbelts. I recall a science fiction story where it was mentioned (in passing) that such a law was passed, but repealed when a security camera tape of a woman being raped after her seatbelt anti-start device prevented her escape was widely broadcast.

Has anyone been talking about the scenario where the computer doesn't enforce copywrite but helps you to remember the copyright owners instructions? I often have trouble remembering if I am allowed to redistribute shareware, or how many days before I have to send a postcard. I'd be interested in seeing command line and graphical tools which simulate the CBDTPA experience, with an override, so that I didn't have to remember the copyright holders instructions myself. I'm surprised Disney Research isn't giving us colorful previews of the CBDTPA world. Is it possible they haven't thought about the copyright holders wishes beyond one or two "Thou Shalt Not" bits?

To ignore the main point of that entirely: I'm sure I remember real cars that wouldn't start unless the seat belt was belted, don't I? There are a few pages on the Web that suggest these once existed, but only a few (so perhaps they (and even I) are spillover from an alternate universe).

I also very fondly remember Clams Got Legs. Those were such happy times...

Monday, July 15, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The American Prospect has a weblog, of a sort (seen on SpinSanity, I think it was, or maybe somewhere on Salon, to which I've just renewed my Premium subscription for some reason). I'm sure the American Prospect is an infamous member of some political tribe or another, but I forget which one at the moment, so I will say without bias that the weblog seems to have some kind of amusing bits.

I've now gotten two copies of the apparently famous "Fakes" spam. It's a long diatribe about how stupid and (well) fake everyone except the writer and his one true friend are, and that although they realize that most of the people that get the spam are also fake, they hope that one or two other real people, who have not been indoctrinated by society, and who "have no arbitrary wants, needs, desires, or preferences" will read the letter, solve the little Google puzzle that it poses, and contact them.

I didn't solve the little Google puzzle, because it looked like work and I had no faith it would actually lead to anything. But Googling on a distinctive-looking phrase from the letter led to a bunch of other people who have also gotten the spam, and some of them did solve the little puzzle, and found themselves at the rather scary Eternal Ambition dot Com. Someone else noticed a similarity to Single Goal dot Com, which has eerie simularities, although the two hyper-logical people at that site have different names.

A nice long discussion of this probably unimportant mystery can be found on (where else?) kottke. The spam has also been remarked on by such luminaries as camworld, and a whole host of others.

I'm betting that it's just a couple of people at a Certain Mental Age who happened to stay focused on the problem of How Stupid Other People Are long enough to put up a website. But if anyone finds out that it really was a movie promo campaign or something, drop me a line.

What would it mean to have a non-arbitrary desire? Is there some connection between the is and the ought besides arbitrary choice? Or besides arbitrary choice and the tendencies that led to our ancestors having been better at making descendants than their competitors? Ayn Rand thought she knew, but her arguments never really convinced me.

Despite the fact that it's a really obvious question to ask and half-drunken college kids have spent innumerable hours discussing it (and imagining that they were the first people to discover it) on innumerable nights down the centuries, it's a question that's worth actually giving serious thought to once in awhile.

Or, to put it another way, "why are you doing that?".

Speaking of things that one might wonder why one is doing, a reader suggests that we suggest a Google search on "prince albert piercing". But we would never suggest such a thing; in fact we strongly recommend against it.

Friday, July 12, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Let's get today's Scalia stuff out of the way first. Some readers write:

He's a fascistic theocratic loon, of course.

Strangely, Mia was the only reader this week to suggest a herd of facist loons.

While another suggests:

"Or maybe a theocratic loon, which is at least as bad." Or you are just a bigot. The man explains the source of his principles, which happen to be his Catholicism. If he had derived the same principles from secular humanism, you'd be cheering. You're trapped by a hate-the-right prejudice.

I don't think that's the case; I am myself at least somewhat "on the right" on a number of issues (hate crimes, free trade, property rights, speech codes, school vouchers, the role of the government in providing every citizen with a pony for Christmas, etc), so I sort of doubt that I have a "hate the right" prejudice.

It's unlikely that anyone could get to "government derives its authority from God" by starting from secular humanist principles, so I'll assume that that's not what the reader meant. If someone had started from secular humanist principles and gotten to "the proper attitude of citizens toward the government is obedient submission", I promise I would not be cheering; I'd more likely be calling the person a fascist loon.

I don't really care about Right and Left; I think those are mostly unhelpful tribal labels. I do care about freedom and rationality, and I am distressed to find that Scalia is not on the side of reason (as witness his linking of government legitimacy to his imaginary friend in the sky), nor on the side of freedom (as witness his dislike for civil disobedience).

If this be prejudice, make the most of it! *8)

Looking for info about merchandise? Try merchandiseinfo.com! You'll be glad you did.


In 1893, an insane British mathematician named Dr. Leslie Steambender attempted to use algebra, Kabbalah, ancient Mesopotamian texts, and Chartered Accountancy Actuarial Tables to develop a single mathematical formula that would describe all of reality -- The Ultimate Formula "X." To read this formula aloud would DESTROY ALL CREATION, ending the universe and (if you believe in such things) KILLING GOD HIMSELF. Just as Steambender had finished putting the formula to paper, a team of Freemason assassins killed him and stole the document, placing it unread in a vault beneath the Tower of London. This piece of paper has been acquired by a private collector, and is now for sale to the highest bidder. The seller only requests that he have time to retreat to an alternate dimension before it is used. Serious bidders only.

Insanely cool! Scary as heck, of course, but especially insanely cool. Why manipulate existing genes, when you can just build new ones from scratch? "Hey, let's try putting wings on the next batch of unicorns!"

A reader writes:

Tell us the tale of the boy who cried Wolfram.

I'm still reading the new kind of book that I describe in this weblog entry, and it's still annoying. Looking at the publication data page (is that a "frontispiece"?), I came across this amusing (if annoying) text:

Certain material in this book may be proprietary, and may for example be or become the subject of U.S. or foreign patents, pending or issued. Inclusion in this book shall not be construed as implying any license of any sort. Visit www.wolframscience.com/nks/licensing for licensing information.

Apparently Wolfram has discovered not only a new kind of science, but a new kind of intellectual property law. Look mister, some of the stuff that you've published in this book might once have been proprietary and/or patentable, but now that you've published it and sold it to all comers, it's no longer proprietary, and it's no longer patentable in most countries unless you've already got the papers filed (which, to be fair, may be what he means). In the United States of America you've still got up to a year; so get those patent lawyers busy writing claims.

"What's that?"

"A plum."

"No, not that, that."

"Another plum?"

"No, that over there."

"I tied a string around it."

"You what?"

"I tied a string around the moon, I tied a string around my finger, I tied a string around your heart."

"What are you talking about?"

"I tied a string around one, I tied a string around two, I tied a string around me, I tied a string around you."

"Let's all try to remain calm."


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