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Why do you do it?
Thursday, August 22, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The Curvature of the Earth is Overwhelmed by Local Noise weblog will be not updating (will not be updating) from now until sometime like September 4th or something. To be notified when updates resume, stick your finger in your ear and shout "muffins!", then ask a friend to let you know when updates resume. (You don't actually have to do the finger part, but it couldn't hurt.)

"... it is now generally conceded that the pumpkin, as a shade tree, is a failure."

Today's amusing "Spam in its entirety":

OPEN and check out the mouse Mafia and Find True Love all at the same time

From Roepcke, the very scary Digital copying rules may change:

In a few years, Americans may not be able to copy a song off a CD, watch a recorded DVD at a friend's house, or store a copy of a television show for more than a day.

And I thought I was writing fiction.

They stand on the hill above the lights
And ask for the clouds to deliver
Really big birds with giant clavicles.
I will abuse and destroy you.
I will abuse and destroy you.
Because my name is Norman Spinella, and I live at 325 Maple Street.

Zip Code 13812.

Fear dot com v. Feardotcom dot com.

Fragments of the usual:

"eyes wide shut" masonic
"fortieth birthday"
"funny wav files"
"giant sheep"
"goldfish" near "memory"
"good pornography"
"got my first pair of glasses"
"hard mazes"
"her tooth was"
"how to bend a fork"
"huge breasted female"
"i'm always naked"
"incent sex"
"iris chacon"
"irish breakfast" + "sex"
"it's only a joke" excuse
"jane's world"
"john nash nobel speech'
"learning machine challenge"
"loving you has made me bananas" "matches your eyes"
"machine translation" + fiasco
"making bread"
"mitzi gaynor" fee
"mitzi gaynor" jpeg
"moss green carpet"
"naked elf" picture
"nude triplets"

Wednesday, August 21, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Apropos our embracing of our curmudgeonliness, a reader suggests this: Crankiness in Decline, Says Old Guy (Garrison Keeler takes headline lessons from The Onion).

Also from Debra, our incredibly cute picture o' the week, from a story nicely titled Back In The Mouths Of Babes.

I've had it graphically impressed on me in recent weeks how (1) some people in positions of power and responsibility are there because they're really smart and devoted and good at what they do, and they can with a single insightful comment penetrate to the heart of a problem that more ordinary people have been chewing over for weeks, and (2) some people in positions of power and responsibilty are there because they specialize in methods of gaining power and responsibility, which doesn't always correlate (and sometimes anti-correlates) with actually contributing anything to any effort.

That is, you can concentrate on doing praiseworthy stuff, or you can concentrate on taking the credit for whatever praiseworthy stuff gets done. Which is a better method of garnering praise (power, responsibility)? Varies with organization, of course. How do we design organizations in which actually doing is more efficient than politicing?

This reminds me of a story I was listening to or reading somewhere a few weeks or months ago, about new standardized tests. Parents and teachers were complaining that the new tests would just take away from actual teaching time, because time would be spent preparing for the test. Someone in the group that had designed, or was pushing, the test said that that wasn't true, that the test only tested stuff that the kids ought to be learning anyway, and no one would have to do anything special to prepare for the test.

Which is of course utter bull. Taking a test involves sitting in a room, in a certain environment, getting information out of certain objects, entering information into certain other objects, in an utterly artificial way. So you can teach the kids stuff, or you can teach them how to do well on the tests. How can we design systems in which the former is the better thing to do? And in which, at least as important, it's obvious that the former is the better thing to do? Where "better" means (at bottom) "leading to being recognized as a better educator".

How do we avoid teachers making the calculation "I'm being paid (or promoted, or otherwise rewarded) based on how well the kids do on this test; training them to take the test will have more of an effect on their scores than just teaching them the material; therefore I will teach them test-taking today rather than history or multiplication"?

How do we avoid knowledge workers making the calculation "I'm being paid (or otherwise rewarded) for how many important sounding projects my names appears on; working the phones to get my name on lots of projects will have more of an effect on this than actually working on any given project; therefore I will work the phones today, rather than actually thinking any substantive thoughts"?

Tuesday, August 20, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Judge Skewers U.S. Curbs on Detainee

"I have no desire to have an enemy combatant get out of any status," [U.S. District Judge Robert G.] Doumar said. "However, I do think that due process requires something other than a basic assertion by someone named Mobbs that they have looked at some papers and therefore they have determined he should be held incommunicado. Just think of the impact of that. Is that what we're fighting for?"

(From Rebecca.)

Scientific American, September 2002

Today's outgoing letter:

From: chess@theogeny.com
To: editors@sciam.com
Subject: What has happened to the scientists?
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 01:32:26 GMT

I am a long-time subscriber (and some time contributor) to SciAm, but I hadn't read an issue really thoroughly in quite awhile (children and all). The cover of the September 2002 issue ("A Matter of Time") got my attention, and I decided to take a few hours and devote some serious attention to it; serious scientists writing about the serious theoretical and practical issues of time in their research would, I thought, be worth spending those precious hours on.

But what's going on here? The "Time" section contains exactly *one* article (Damasio's) by an actual scientist talking about his actual work. Aside from that, I find prose by a "special projects editor", and "a staff editor and writer" and a "freelance writer and researcher" and "a science writer", and "a museum consultant", and (a?) "senior writer". I find two articles by Paul Davies, but while he is a practicing scientist some days, in these pieces he's a science journalist, a popularizer, writing (vaguely and at a very high and elementary level) about other people's work.

What's become of the scientists? I expect SciAm to be a primary source, not a kind of scientific People Magazine. Aren't there some actual scientists doing actual work in this field, that would have been pleased to write a paper for a wider audience?

Bring back the scientists!

David M. Chess
Westchester County, NY, USA

I think I'll enjoy being a curmudegon in my old age...

Monday, August 19, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

"Terence Ross of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the news publishers' attorney, even told me that he thinks Internet users who configure their browsers to disable graphics (a common tactic to boost the speed of Web surfing) are committing copyright infringement because they are interfering with Web publishers' exclusive right to control how their pages are displayed.

Lock 'em up with those miscreants who draw moustaches on the models in the ads in their copies of the New York Times, I say!

A spammer writes:

Update: A man enters a barbarshop...and more funny pages!!

The amusing thing about it was that that was the entirely of the spam: there was no URL, no ad for Viagra or "free herbs", no nothings. Very odd.

Informed Citizen reading of the month:

"In a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) briefing book that was leaked to the Associated Press and a public memo (Adobe PDF file) from Democracy Corps, a Democratic consulting firm, candidates are advised on how to use poll-tested rhetoric to gain political advantage."

When feeling kind of spiritless and disaffected, unwilling to get out of bed (much less go to work) on a Monday morning, there's nothing like hearing Susie Bright read your letter on her Audible program (and saying kinda nice things about you, although of course she does that for everyone whose letter she reads). I was up there on the machine at the Club with my ear-things on my ears, pretending to cross-country ski, and grinning like an idiot to hear my words read out to scads of people by Susie herself, and discussed in a friendly sort of way with her eminent guest. (No, I wasn't the guy asking how you get into the sex-worker business.)

So that was fun.

(To reward audible.com for allowing Ms. Bright to spread my words to her audience, I will take part in their "Spread the Words" viral marketing schtick to the extent of telling you that if you go to audible.com (which is where the show comes from) and sign up with them, and give my name (which they think is "dmchess") when you sign up, I (and perhaps you, I'm not sure) will get some free frob (on the other of a month's membership, I think) in return. Isn't that rad?)

In Sims news, we picked up a pre-owned copy of House Party at the computer store the other day, and Merram and Artemisia threw a big birthday bash for Bathsheba, with costumes and punch and dancing and hot tubbing and all sorts of stuff. The main lesson from which was that big parties in The Sims aren't really that good an idea unless you like them as ends in themselves: it takes a couple of days to recover, and with all the running about and the jealousy events and so on the net effect on things like relationship scores is probably negative.

But the costume trunk, at least, is a lot of fun. So if nothing else, the ladies can lounge around in the evenings in togas or disco suits, just for variety...

The problem of other minds: that's hard enough, but it occurs to me that a problem, perhaps a logically prior problem, is the problem of other times. A subjective Zeno's paradox, maybe: all I'm ever aware of is those things that are directly available to consciousness at a single instant.

(This is not to endorse "raw feels" or uninterpreted qualia or anything old-fashioned like that; the stuff that's available to consciousness at a particular instant has a big semantic load, with tags and labels of all kinds stuck all over it, but it's still instantaneous. I have memories of past times and expectations of future times, but I have those memories and expectations now.)

So there's an interesting problem about how I have knowledge of other (past) times. I think the problem is soluble, through some clever and deep thinking about just what knowledge is. How similar is it to the problem of other minds? I probably have to know about other times before I can know about other minds; do the things that get me knowledge of other times help me know about other minds also?

Tell me something...

I have millions of such irretrievable derailed thought trains

The older I get the faster it goes. No, wait. The faster it goes the older I get. No, wait.

kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty poo

good Tell me that you love me,
Tell me something good
Tell me that you like it,

Christine de Pizan wrote an amazing book on feminism in 1405 called "The Book of the City of Ladies." -- Also, Sugar Cube's drug-soaked cover of "Brazil" is pretty cool in the morning, too.

naked helen's pictures

naked helen's pictures

Choice of the word "manifesto" is either bad or on purpose. To most people these days there is always an implied "communist" before the word. The Humanists made the mistake with the "Humanist Manifesto" both I and II. WBC

In a previous life, I was a chicken who played tic-tac-toe. Is that so wrong?

Ah, Settlers of Catan! Notable in that it is one of a very very few games which work decently well with three players. Good games for three players are particularly hard to develop, I think, because if you have too much interaction between players they often end up in a two-gang-up-on-one situtation, which is not terribly interesting; or you have no interaction between players (or interaction beyond the players' control) which is also uninteresting. Settlers of Catan is one of the few games that finds the right balance between those extremes for three players, I think.

Tivo series II boards have an Atmel 90SC3232 chip on them -- a secure microcontroller designed for use on smartcards.

Cialdini, the author of Influence, actually has a lot of clueful things to say. I highly recommend his book. For someone as smart as you, though, it may consist of mostly-obvious stuff, though for me it was quite eye-opening.


Well, we're just back from vacation, which was great. Plenty of sun and beer, plus I learned to kayak. Unfortunately, when we got home, the post office had screwed up our mail, the dryer broke, we've got ants in the kitchen, and I have a pile of email past the moon. Why do we ever come back?

What wonderful terms we still have in our language, associated with our analog past. Penned. Inked. Eraser. Cross out. Scratch out. Dial. Ring. Book.

That last reminds me again of our occasional theme about why there are so many things that we don't have words for; so many (what?) design patterns (and anti-patterns) in the world that people see all the time, but for some reason don't make up words for (and therefore can't reason as effectively about, perhaps?).

Why is there no word, for instance, for the situation where a creative person of some kind begins producing something in a certain way, for eir own edification, and the something appeals to some people, and the person acquires a larger or smaller following, and then over time the person wants to strike out and produce rather different sorts of content or otherwise to do something else, but feels (or is) constrained by the expectations of the members of the following (expectations that the person either actually knows of, or simply imagines), and so either doesn't strike out in the new directions or do the something else, or does so in some sense in disguise, or does so but with a certain reluctance or fear or resentment, and there occurs (or doesn't occur) certain reactions and backlashes (or praise) and expressions of betrayal (or encouragement) from the members of the following?


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