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Half of seventeen:
Thursday, February 19, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Sometime back, a reader wrote:

Thank you so much for the full-text RSS....

Quite welcome. And as of today, we also have a fancy Atom feed (also full-text, since it was easy). And I've extended the time-window on all the feeds from seven entries to fourteen; it's only text, after all.

(Note the snazzy RSS and Atom icons to the left there, also. Thanks to Antipixel and to Ian and to anyone else whose shoulders I'm standing on.)

This, and the fact that this entry is once again full of links to like other weblogs and stuff, is due of course to my continued hacking on my feed-reader, which I suppose I really shouldn't harp on too much here, because it's unlikely I'll every be able to release it publically.

Bad-law watch, from Lessig:

Congress is currently considering a bill (H.R. 3261) that does for facts what the DMCA did for copyright and innovation--it will prevent the public from accessing and using information in ways that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

From Medley, a good essay on doing whatever the heck you want on the Web:

If you can't write well, write with such passionate muscularity that people stand back and go 'whoa!' Make things, reach out to people. If you write well, keep doing it, and get better, and don't kiss ass for personal gain. If not, just go, bash that keyboard, make a hideous, amateurish squall, one to which, if it has some kernel of glorious truthtelling, people will respond. The mass amateurization of nearly everything is good. If you're a gifted amateur, the world will beat a path to your, er, door.

Very much along the lines of my own various rants on the subject; as Medley says, the same subjects are always coming 'round on the guitar.

Also from Medley, Crying at Weddings, with some good further pointers on the whole wonderful Marriage Thing. A related quote from Morford (who gets credit for many of today's links):

And one other thing was very apparent: It was a situation in which you simply could not imagine anyone hurling gobs of intolerant hate at it. It would have required a serious amount of nasty, inbred ignorance and appalling nerve to march up to any of the passionate and committed couples waiting patiently in line for their marriage ceremony and say, you know, God hates you for this, you immoral disgusting sodomites, and it's intolerable and unacceptable that you wish to love and honor each other till death do you part.

I so much don't understand the opposition to this.

"Even if we are married for only 10 minutes, we are married," said Tracey Turner, 39, of Yuba City, Calif., after she and her partner, Teira Taylor, 26, tied the knot. "Our certificate is recorded with the city and no one can take that away from us."

And in obviously-related news, I'm sure you've heard that Barbie and Ken are splitting up after 43 years. I a whole lot don't understand that, also. Is it a joke? Some very obscure marketing gimmick? Did Satan pay Mattel some large amount of money to encourage instability in relationships? Next week, will Mattel announce that Barbie has been indicted for wire fraud? What is the flippin' point here?

Now a moment of sanity: Woman drops lawsuit over Super Bowl halftime show. Maybe she remembered that she started having those psychotic episodes before the Great Nipple Incident.

Paragraph o' the Day:

Demand has been so great that Hull, often referred to as the father of the corporate drum-circle movement, trains new facilitators to lead their own circles. He has a warehouse full of some 10,000 percussion instruments, with another 200 in storage in Britain and another 300 stashed away in Beijing.

"Father of the corporate drum-circle movement." Whoa.

Every OS Sucks.

Paragraph o' the Day II:

When my father mows the lawn is he a cyborg? What if it is only a mechanical rotary lawnmower? What if the lawnmower is controlled remotely by a Pentium 100 Mghtz computer running Windows 95 with ten agents vying for control? What if the lawnmower is using my father's bowling scores to make its decisions as to what to cut? How often does my father have to mow the lawn with a computer controlled lawnmower before he becomes as cyborg? Is once enough? More importantly, is there a way for him to mow the lawn without becoming a cyborg? If he drinks a lemonade while mowing the lawn does it quench the lawnmower's thirst?

That naughty administration again:

More than 60 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and several science advisers to Republican presidents, on Wednesday accused the Bush administration of manipulating and censoring science for political purposes.

In a 46-page report and an open letter, the scientists accused the administration of "suppressing, distorting or manipulating the work done by scientists at federal agencies" in several cases.

Today we got rid of the virus collection. I couldn't have done it myself, but I was able to allow Ian to clear off the shelves and open up the safe in the isolation lab, and toss hundreds of diskettes (remember diskettes?) of vintage 1980s and 1990s virus samples into the "to be shredded" hopper.

There was our original Stoned diskette, with a label in my handwriting. There were dozens of envelopes from the field, with diskettes contained in layers of packaging with elaborate warnings. "Danger! Virus!! Handle With Care!!" There were Bouncing Ball, and Dark Avenger, and NoInt, carefully standardized and imaged and locked away for study.

This was back when viruses were comparatively rare; an exotic and thrilling danger, like having a vial of Ebola in a rack on your shelf. We were so innocent then. The security work we do now doesn't depend on having a frozen zoo of decade-old DOS specimens.

I did intercept many pieces of paper from the lab, and now they're in a pile on my desk. I suppose I'll stick them in a box or something, and take them out every couple of years and wax nostalgic.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

This morning, not too long after dawn, when the dominant light outside was still the blueness of the leftover snow, I was about to take the trash down to the corner, and I was stopped by a glimpse of something moving in the back yard.

Deer, two or three deer, dimly visible through the bushes in the snow-light, moving smoothly and slowly through the yard, looking around, nibbling at leaves.

I got the camera (softly, quietly, so as not to startle them with any thumps through the walls), and pointed it through the windows and the bushes at them and snapped around a little. I doubt the camera managed to capture much, though, in that light.

Then eventaully they moved away across the back yards, and I took the trash down.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Just a few links tonight.

I'd known vaguely about AUIML and XUL and XAML, but apparently those aren't the only XML languages for writing user interfaces. I wonder how real that idea is?

From Medley, a long list of Presidential Accomplishments; one of my favorites is

Despite being at war around the world and under constant threat of terrorist attack at home, Bush has spent 27% of his presidency on vacation, taking more vacation days in his first three years than Clinton took in seven years.

From whatever this weblog is called at the moment, a fascinating line from this place:

One of the most important and fascinating discussions in Saunders' book is about the fact that the CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist (AE) painting and painters...

Speaks for itself:

The ADF [Alliance Defence Fund], a conservative Christian lobbying group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, has made the campaign against gay marriage one of its key issues - ironically arguing that "there is definitely no national trend toward same-sex marriage" while devoting the bulk of the space on its home page to news bulletins tracking gay marriage cases in various parts of the country.

And a very uplifting (and I mean that non-ironically) related photoessay.

Great line noted by Kottke:

Let me say what I think your problem is. You can use these harsh terms, but you are dealing with something new, and the question is, does the statutory monopoly that Congress has given you reach out to that something new. And that's a very debatable question. You don't solve it by calling it 'theft.' You have to show why this court should extend a statutory monopoly to cover the new thing. That's your problem. Address that if you would. And curtail the use of abusive language.

And to end on a cautionary note:

Katharine Gun, a British former government employee, now faces two years imprisonment in England for the "crime" of telling the truth. She is charged with leaking an embarrassing U.S. intelligence memo indicating that the U.S. had mounted a spying "surge" against U.N. delegations in early 2003 in an effort to win approval of the Iraq war resolution. The leaked memo was big news in parts of the world.

England has no First Amendment that might protect Ms. Gun. It does have a repressive Official Secrets Act, under which she is being prosecuted by the Blair government.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, February 16, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Before beginning our weblog tonight, we have a brief public service announcement:

Fuck the FCC

Thank you very much.

The Word of the Day is "screen" (or actually "screened"). As you know, "screen" comes from the Old Norse word scrwn, meaning "the sound a rabbit makes when you pluck its fur", and later used to refer to the fine fabric loosely woven from threads of spun rabbit-fur, which were used on ceremonial occasions honoring the god Rhomur, patron deity of knee-socks and copulation out of wedlock, whose priests and priestesses would entertain the crowds by --

Oh, sorry.

"Screen" is of course actually from the Old North French escren or escran (compare modern French écran), meaning, more or less, "screen". (Some sources trace this back to the Middle Dutch scherm, but my OED seems doubtful.)

A screen is a flat thing. Some screens stand up to protect the things behind them from wind, the unwelcome gaze, or Federal prosecutors. Some screens have fine holes in them, and are used to separate (say) the wheat from the chaff; metaphorically, we screen resumés to find the ones worth following up, we screen incoming packets to remove the malicious-looking ones, and our assistants screen our calls so as not to awaken us for no good reason. Other screens are large and upright, and are used to project images onto ("I went to the movies, and I saw a dog thirty feet high; and this dog was made entirely of light").

The reason that "screen" (or "screened") is the word of the day is that sometime recently I was listening to the radio, and they were talking about movies, and they kept saying how a particular movie was "being screened across the U.S." and so on, and although they meant "screened" in the "shown in theatres" sense, I kept hearing it in the "wheat from the chaff" sense, and picturing these rooms full of earnest censors, squinting in their thousands (across the U.S.) to decide which movies would be allowed to exist, which ones to take up the public's valuable time with, which to cast into the fire.

In geek news, the feed-reader is coming along nicely; it understands a few versions of RSS and it understands Atom, and it keeps track of what you've read and what you haven't, and it runs (and even looks pretty decent) on both Windows XP and OS X (with a little OS-specific code for opening the default browser when you double-click on a source or an article). Of course it's not nearly as frabjous as all the no doubt dozens of existing feed-readers out there, but it's mine...

(In music news, the iTunes Music Store now carries Ani DiFranco; "Dilate" is currently downloading over to my right there, using up all the house's bandwidth.)

Far too many:

facts of fiction

... rumors about Janet Jackson. The truth is, she wasn't wearing a pasty at all; she was wearing jewelry for her pierced nipple. No, really.

I like tribe.net better than Orkut.

broken koans

Fortunately, it DOES represent the electorate in November! I am looking forward to seeing the sanctimonious criminal get wiped across the floor by a literate and decent Democrat.

said Reginald as if to himself. "What, dear?" asked his Aunt. "Far too many," he repeated, gazing moodily out of the porthole. "Too many of those dashed star things. Very probably something should be done about it. Steps, I mean, should be taken. Which one are we going to, I wonder?" Reginald's Aunt shot him an exasperated look. "None of them, dear", she said. "We're going to the moon." Reginald's face clouded. "Yes," he said. "And what a jolly lot of fun it's going to be." He screwed a Balkan sobranie into his cigarette holder with the air of a Stoic philosopher who knows that the concoction that's just been handed to him probably isn't a gin fizz. "There'll be others, there", said his Aunt, brightening. "You'll make all sorts of friends, you'll see." "Others?" "Yes, there are Chinese, Russians, lots of people." Reginald suppressed a shudder. "God! It sounds worse than Harrogate. Maybe we'll be able to whack up some sort of an indoor game." A thought struck his Aunt. "Golf!" she cried. "I know there's golf - you'll enjoy that, I'm sure."

old fashioned


whoops that was supposed to be a search, but it works surprisingly well with the prompt!






I am blessed, as always. I hope the optimist above is right about November; in my less hopeful moments I think we're permanently stuck with Reginald. Not to mention Scalia.

(Ooooh, "outoutblogspot": I get it. That's funny! In multiple ways, even.)

We close tonight with a bit of spam bibliomancy:

That could well be the answer. The same thing we do every night, he replied. There were many examples of animals all around. He wanted to know more.

Don't we all?

Saturday, February 14, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Happy Valentine's Day and all!

There's nothing more pointlessly self-indulgent than moaning about annoying technical support, but what is a weblog for if not self-indulgence?

So M and I had a nice Valentine's wander in a local Temple to Commerce, and in the Temple to Commerce there's an Apple Store, and seeing it I thought of a few things I wanted to ask about, and we wanted to see what the new mini iPods look like, and stuff.

Now the tech-support desk in Apple stores is apparently called "The Genius Bar". There's a sign hanging from the ceiling above the desk, and the sign says "Genius".

This turns out, I think, to be rather a bad idea from the viewpoint of keeping your tech-support people humble.

There was a woman standing at the Genius Bar, and she had the little Apple logo on her shirt, so I figured I'd ask her my questions.

"I have a few questions," I said. "Do you have any of those new little miniature iPods we could look at?"

"This is the Genius Bar," she replied, her voice dripping scorn, "are you asking a sales question?".

Oh, no, well of course not, I wouldn't dare, now would I?

My next question was also a bit salesy, but I forged foolishly ahead anyway.

"Um, okay," I said, "anyway, we have Jaguar right now, and we're thinking of upgrading to Panther. Is that something we can download from the Net?"

"No," she said, "you have to pay for it."

Now, I could have sworn I'd heard somewhere that it was possible to pay for things you download from the Net, but who I am to question a Genius?

My last question was more technical, so I gave it a shot.

"We share an iBook," I said. "Is there some way to set up iTunes so that we can each have our own library, but share some songs without having to have multiple copies of the same song on the hard drive?"

"No," she said.

"Oh, uh, I see. I thought maybe we could have iTunes get songs from different parts of the hard drive?"

"No," she said, "it keeps them all in your home folder. It copies all the music there."

"But," I said, "I think when I first configured iTunes, I got to choose whether it copied things into its library or not."

"Oh, yeah," she said helpfully.

"So could I maybe turn that copying feature off, and have it leave the songs where they are, in various different parts of the disk, some shared and some not?"

"Not really," she said, and looked away. I rolled my eyes, and we left.

Classy signs hanging from the ceiling do not a genius make.

In other genius news, here are two pages of sharp (and amusing) analysis of two patents on inventions that are too good to be true. Literally.

the direct bit encode method of the present invention is effective for reducing an input string by one bit regardless of the bit pattern of the input string.

And an article pointing to two other very good articles (one funny and one scholarly) on why (and when) the singular "they" is okay.

bnd finally: some geniuses have filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for the damage they suffered from Janet Jackson's nipple.

Today's touch of geek irony: I sat down to write some code to parse RSS and Atom feeds (I thought it'd be fun to cobble together my own reader), and the first Atom feed I pointed it at (having searched on "Atom feed" or something in Google) was from dive into mark, and it included an article about his efforts to write some code to parse RSS and Atom feeds. (Other relevant articles.)

I dunno if I'll get around to parsing all nine RSS variants that he's found, and I almost certainly won't get around to correctly handling all possible character encodings. If someone's RSS feed is in EBCDIC, more power to them, but I'm not going to worry too much about being able to parse it.

And yes, we had a very nice Valentine's Day, thanks, but you're not going to read any more about it here. *8)


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