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Thursday, March 18, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

So my current theory on the ESP game is that some large fraction of players (half?) don't realize that you can type more than one word for a picture, and just type one carefully (or carelessly) considered word, and lean back to hope that their partner will type the same one.

This would explain why so many scores seem so low (even in my worst rounds, my percentile score is pretty much never under 50): if two of these players get partnered, they'll rarely match. It would also explain why some of the rounds I've played have been so frustrating (the ones where I get paired with a one-word player) while others go so well (where I get paired with someone else who just types word after word after word like I do).

(I also notice at least one very familiar nickname on the Top Scores of the Day chart; have I been a bad influence? Heh heh...)

A couple of postings about recent (and mostly annoying) marriage-equality developments, that cover the field at least as well as I would: Long Story, and Medley. (Another good reason not to be a Democrat is that Robert L. Venables is apparently a Democrat, and I'd never want to belong to any political party that elected him to anything.)

A reader of my notes to NPR yesterday called my libertarian bona fides into question on the basis of my apparent support for government funded media outlets, and in particular of government funded media outlets that I acknowledge have some affinity for "progressive" views and for "the Left".

Being still sick, and still lazy, I'll use my answer as the bulk of today's entry. I'm not sure it's entirely correct; if nothing else I think there are some subtlties about what "progressive" and "the Left" actually mean that are skipped lightly over here. But mostly I think I agree with it.

Good questions! In my ideal world there wouldn't be government-funded media (possibly with a few trivial exceptions for hurricane warnings and so on; I'm not sure). Nor would there be government-funded cigarette advertising, government-funded pressure on foreign countries to open their markets, government subsidization of those industries that grease the right palms, government-funded fundamentalist churches, government-funded persecution of sex-toy vendors, goverment-funded covert disinformation campaigns directed at making citizens more pliable, etc, etc, etc.

Given that we're not in the ideal world, though, and that government funds all sorts of things that favor what's traditionally called "the right", I don't have a problem with at least one thing funded in part by the government having an affinity toward what's traditionally called "the left". So for example if the government is going around encouraging all sorts of irrational mouth-foaming "zero tolerance" things, I'd really like NPR to err in the other direction (or at least not to join in erring in that direction).

This isn't to say that I'd want or expect NPR or PBS to actually distort the facts that they report or the stories that they write; it's more that I'd expect them to behave themselves in progressive ways. Like, say, not firing a commentator for saying a Naughty Word or for smoking weed while off-duty, and (more importantly) being willing to air the opinions of people who don't normally have access to (outgoing) media. (In my perhaps horribly biased view, actively trying to give a voice to comparatively powerless people tends to be something that "the Left" does, whereas "the Right" tends to assume that anyone with an important message will be able to buy the airtime themselves.)

I'd love it if NPR and PBS would wean themselves away from government funding; this would be much more likely to happen if the government confiscated less of everyone's money, and they therefore had more to (for instance) give to NPR.


      How can you support government spending on a department that (a)
      distributes information; (b) you admit has an ideological bent?

If I could eliminate all of that in one blow, I believe I would. But given that there are departments that distribute information and have an ideological bent opposite mine, I think I'd be foolish not to support a balancing force. And again there's an ambiguity in "ideological bent" here; I don't want NPR to lie or mislead. I want them to conduct themselves in progressive ways (see above).

      Is a biased NPR a good thing?

An oversimple question. A good thing compared to what alternative or alternatives? And I'm not sure I accept "biased" here. Having a reasonable policy about obscenity isn't necessarily a "bias", nor would it imply distorted or misleading reporting. So I would answer this by saying "having a progressively-run NPR is a good thing compared to having only not-progressively-run state-sponsored information activities" (ref "Office of Special Plans"). But if by "bias" you mean actual misreporting, then "no" (and in that case I don't think I would grant that NPR is in fact "biased", although I haven't done a study).

      Even if somehow the government news agency was libertarian,
      I'd rather trade away the short term benefit to get rid
      of the longer term risk that the agency would fall into
      the hands of ideological opponents.

What if there were two government news agencies, an overt libertarian one and a covert statist one? Would you still oppose funding of the overt libertarian one? That's roughly where I think we are wrt NPR. (Although this is all very top-of-the-head, and I have a cold, and it's entirely possible that someone will put forth an argument that changes my mind.)

And to distract us from all this serious thought, we'll end with a lawyer joke (this one actually arrived in the Bayes-shielding of some spam; pretty odd, eh?):

A barber gave a haircut to a priest one day. The priest tried to pay for the haircut but the barber refused saying, "You do God's work." The next morning the barber found a dozen bibles at the door to his shop. A policeman came to the barber for a haircut, and again the barber refused payment saying, "You protect the public." The next morning the barber found a dozen doughnuts at the door to his shop. A lawyer came to the barber for a haircut, and again the barber refused payment saying, "You serve the justice system." The next morning the barber found a dozen lawyers waiting for a haircut.

So there you are.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Having a cold really messes around with the inwardness and outwardness of attention. The outside world is sort of secondary; it presents stimuli, and you (and I) react to them, generally in mostly appropriate ways, but the real center of consciousness is inward.

How do I feel now? How sore is my throat? How stuffed up is it? Would this be a good time to swallow? Would this be a good time to find some Kleenex® and blow this nose? If I close my eyes for a minute because they're itchy, will I fall asleep?

Last Sunday we mentioned how an NPR station (of all places) had fired a commentator because she'd said "fuck" and it had somehow escaped being bleeped out. Seems the station later saw the error of their ways and offered her the job back, but she turned them down (can hardly blame her). Here's an interview with Sandra Tsing Loh, the commentator. (Apologies if you can't read it, or can't read the whole thing; I'm not sure exactly how Salon works.)

When I first heard about the firing I shot off a rather nasty letter to the station about it, and got a rather snarky response. Today I got another, much less snarky, response. Looks like someone had a thorough talking to. *8)

Because I'm too woozy to write anything else fresh, here is the entire text of my exchange with KCRW, recorded for posterity:

From: chess@theogeny.com
To: mail@kcrw.org
Subject: Sandra Tsing Loh
Date: Sat, 6 Mar 2004 01:01:46 GMT

You *fired* Sandra Tsing Loh because the engineer forgot to bleep out a naughty word? What are you, FOX TV or something? Isn't NPR supposed to be progressive, or at least *sane*? Sheesh!

An NPR (but not KCRW) listener,

Date: Fri, 05 Mar 2004 17:07:38 -0800
To: chess@theogeny.com
From: "answers@kcrw.org"
Subject: Re: Sandra Tsing Loh

There are some things in life that you go to the wall for. The right to use obscene or indecent language on the radio is not one of them.

The Loh Life feature that caused KCRW to cancel Sandra Tsing Loh's program uses this language in an intentional and unambiguous way. Moreover, it was presented in a context that shocked and offended listeners who phoned, wrote and e-mailed the station after the broadcast.

This language violates KCRW's policy on offensive language. It could endanger the station's license and/or result in heavy fines.

In the wake of recent events, is there a radio or TV programmer today who is not aware of the serious risks involved?

KCRW is original, idiosyncratic and adventurous. It is also realistic and grown-up. We know access to the airwaves is both a privilege and a responsibility.

The station has fostered an independent, free-thinking spirit that pervades its influential public affairs and cultural programming and its trend-setting music broadcasts.

These programs and that spirit are far too important to put the station at risk over a crude four-letter word.

Sincerely yours,
Ruth Seymour KCRW General Manager

From: chess@theogeny.com
To: answers@kcrw.org
Subject: Re: Sandra Tsing Loh
Date: Sat, 6 Mar 2004 18:47:13 GMT

Thanks for the reply!

But this isn't about defending the right to say a certain word on the air (I'd love to see the Left defend that right, but I agree there are more important things).

This is about the right not to be *fired* for a simple mistake. Zero tolerance is for the Right, and hardly reflects "an independent, free-thinking spirit". If you'd apologized to anyone offended, said it was a human error, and moved on, would you really have been endangering your mission? Or furthering it?

You're there on the ground, of course, and know the facts better than I do. But I get the feeling that the spirit of Lenny Bruce isn't exactly being venerated at KCRW...


Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 18:17:46 -0800
To: chess@theogeny.com
From: "answers@kcrw.org"
Subject: Re: Sandra Tsing Loh

Dear Concerned Listener:

KCRW and Sandra Tsing Loh have released the following joint statement:


KCRW-FM and Sandra Tsing Loh announced today that the station has decided to reverse its decision to take Loh off the air after an indecent word was inadvertently broadcast during one of her taped commentaries. But Loh has turned down General Manager Ruth Seymour's invitation to resume "The Loh Life" on KCRW.

"When I made the decision to cancel 'The Loh Life,' I was not in possession of all the facts regarding this unfortunate incident, specifically that it had been Sandra's practice to leave instructions for her engineer to bleep out certain words, and that this practice had never before gone awry," said Seymour. "I regret having jumped to conclusions about what happened and for erroneously accusing Sandra of an 'intentional' breach of our broadcast standards."

"I appreciate the station's willingness to acknowledge that it was wrong to cancel my show as well as its invitation for me to return," Loh said. "And while I do wish KCRW well, I personally don't think I could be comfortable working there anymore."


KCRW runs a free-spirited station with few restrictions on programmers, who produce their shows without interference from management. The station attracts many independent and edgy thinkers and artists who enjoy the freedom to express themselves on the air.

When I initially spoke to Sandra about her February 29 feature, she did not tell me that it had been her practice, with previous commentaries, to leave an editing script with instructions for her engineer to bleep out offending language. We were not informed that this was being done. This is a risky way to work. There were no safeguards in place to make sure that the editing of the language was cleared and was completed.

The recent Congressional decision -- which passed by a vote of 391-22 -- to massively increase fines for obscene and indecent material, as well as to trigger license review, is an indication of just how seriously the lawmakers regard an infraction of FCC regulations. This is a huge bipartisan vote, which indicates support from all sides of the aisle.

It is a lot easier for Congress to concentrate on the use of four-letter words and the image of a woman's breast than it is to deal with the disappearance of local radio from the American airwaves. The FCC has allowed multi-conglomerates to buy up hundreds of radio stations across the country. Where there were once many local stations in a market, today in fact, public radio represents that local voice.

I know that you are concerned about the issues involved and that you support Sandra. Though I regret that she has made the decision not to return, KCRW will implement safeguards to protect the station from any further incidents without impinging on the freedom of its programmers.

This is a truly regrettable incident and we wish Sandra the best.


Ruth Seymour
General Manager

Must have been some interesting meetings at the station there...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

So now I have a cold (always some excuse). Phleh and all!

Also it's snowing; I have rather mixed emotions about that. A fact to which the snow is completely indifferent.

I presume.

So I've been playing that game entirely too much; I was like Number Two in the "top scores in the last 24 hours list" for awhile. (And at another time I was a bit lower down the list, and the little daughter was above me; I'm a bad influence!)

By carefully timing our "play again" clicks, the little daughter and I were able to get each other as partners twice; that was fun! We didn't cheat at all. But we did do very well; our minds work frighteningly similarly.

And relatedly (the relation will become clear shortly), readers are divided on the whole Gear Issue:

Nooooo! For the love of all IFITS, don't bring back the gears! It's such an inconvenient extra step to have to make them stop going LOOK OVER HERE LOOK OVER HERE while I'm trying to read your eloquent words.

yes, I so miss the gears!

(Or at least readers are divided unless we read, like, sarcasm or something into that second missive.)

Funnily enough, while playing the silly game, one of the images was the gears themselves! Imagine my surprise. They display the URL of the images at the end of the game. Turns out they weren't getting the gears from our copy, but rather from this page, where they are doing service as a very 1994 "under construction" marker.

Here's an article about the game that confirms in passing a story someone told at lunch the other day, about some brilliant scum who had figured out a way to defeat those "prove you're a human by typing here the letters that appear in this fuzzy image" CAPTCHA things:

But at least one potential spammer managed to crack the CAPTCHA test. Someone designed a software robot that would fill out a registration form and, when confronted with a CAPTCHA test, would post it on a free porn site. Visitors to the porn site would be asked to complete the test before they could view more pornography, and the software robot would use their answer to complete the e-mail registration.



It seems that other people have worried a bit about the impact of syndication readers on the Weblog Experience. See this:

And so I realized that reading the weblogs of my friends (and other animals) in an aggregator like Bloglines, convenient as it may be, totally trashed that metaphor for me...

and this:

And why are we doing all of this? So that someone who is subscribed to a 1000 different feeds, doesn't have to leave their aggregator.

That latter is about people making changes to their sites so they look better in aggregators. I don't plan to do that; but it's the same general and interesting theme.

Sentence o' the Day:

Clear Channel disputed the FCC's claim that the phrase "the way he licks pussy" is patently offensive.

I'm not offended by that phrase? Are you offended by that phrase? I didn't think so.

I think it's a very nice phrase.

Now just some odds and ends (which really does sound more like it than, say, "evens and starts"):

Is California's attorney general preparing a legislative assault on peer-to-peer file sharing? ...the metadata associated with the Microsoft Word document indicates it was either drafted or reviewed by a senior vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Another huge surprise there. I used to consider all the metadata in Office documents to be a bug, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe politicians should be required to use special versions of Office that record absolutely everything that happens to a document, and automatically post it all to the Web.

This database identifies 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by these five officials in 125 public appearances in the time leading up to and after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq. The search options on the left can be used to find statements by any combination of speaker, subject, keyword, or date.

Note that the search options are on the left there. You see what I'm sayin'?

Stern had strongly backed Bush's war on Iraq, but in the past two weeks, he has derided the president as a "Jesus freak," a "maniac" and "an arrogant bastard," while ranting against "the Christian right minority that has taken over the White House." Specifically, Stern has assailed Bush's use of 9/11 images in his campaign ads, questioned his National Guard service, condemned his decision to curb stem cell research and labeled him an enemy of civil liberties, abortion rights and gay rights.
"Our research shows many, many people in the 30- to 40- year-old range who were Bush supporters are rethinking that position and turning away from Bush because of what Howard Stern has been saying," says Harrison.

Heh heh. (He wrote, insightfully.)

David Knight, son of the state senator who was the author of the California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage, defied his father's law and wed his partner of 10 years Tuesday in a quiet ceremony attended by just two friends in San Francisco City Hall.

There's a Thanksgiving Family Diner to avoid.

And finally, because it comes last, Rich Kulawiec notes a study of Large-Scale Registration of Domains with Typographical Errors. Also on that site, Domains Reregistered for Distribution of Unrelated Content: A Case Study of "Tina's Free Live Webcam". The pale underbelly of the Web.

Monday, March 15, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Went upstateward over the weekend to see and celebrate some friends tying the knot. A lovely ceremony, short and moving, in a nice rural setting, people all happy and congratulatory.

Great fun.

(I shouldn't politicize, but I have to say that I'm grateful that New York allows different-sex marriages; it would be terrible if our friends had been kept from marrying just because some people don't think men and women can ever understand each other well enough to make a stable family. Whatever the statistics say, people deserve a chance to make a go of it, regardless of their genders.)

Not much time to write in the log here, because I'm spending all my time labeling every image on the Web. It's very addictive (I've got the little daughter hooked now also).

It seems somewhat unlikely that they're actually trying to label every image on the web this way for direct use in some sort of search engine (doesn't it?). I would guess that what they're actually doing is getting together a big database of labeled images for use teaching a program to do image labeling itself, or similar stuff. Brilliant idea either way, though; whoever designed the interface is a genius.

(I can think of various memes that it would be evil to spread: things like "regardless of what the picture is of, always type the lowest number (like 'one' or 'seven') that isn't on the Taboo list, as your first guess". Of course if there's a bonus for agreeing on the first word you type, there'd be a disincentive to use that particular one until it became widespread. "Always type 'wombat' if you're running out of words" is another evil one (similarly corrupts the database) that doesn't seem to have a corresponding disincentive. But this train of thought isn't good for the karma.)

From the "Film at Eleven" department:

British authors mislead readers by writing favourable endorsements for the covers of other people's novels when they have not read the book - or even dislike its content.

A number of prominent writers confessed to giving glowing "soundbite" reviews to work they did not rate highly. One admitted to providing inaccurate tributes to raise her own literary profile.

You mean the blurbs on book covers aren't always accurate and sincere? Whoa! (Link from bookslut.)


Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don't pledge abstinence, according to a study that examined the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents.

Big shocker there also! Although the explanation is a tiny bit subtler: they do have less sex, but when they do they're less likely to use protection (because having protection handy would be admitting that they might break their naive little vows).

Favorite spam sender name of the day: "Parr S. Stupidly".

I wrote up a little review of Benford's "Cosm". It wasn't very good. The review's not all that good, either; my book reviews have developed a sort of snarky superficial tone over the years, that I'm not entirely fond of. Have to work on that.

Metafilter on the Unusual Solar Object. (And also on some sources of cool space pictures.)

Stairway to Gilligan.

Oh, and Metafilter once again, on a really very funny (and quite sexy, if you share my accent-fetish) Channel 4 ad spot with lots of Brit celebs saying nasty words.

Good advice from Rebecca Blood.

Thinking more about syndication feed readers and separating form from content and all that. One reader writes:

I can't really say that I agree with your comments about the web logs presentation; it may be nice that the writer has presented themselves well, but it's the words that matter. Your brown-on-brown layout is all definately distinct but if it went away I wouldn't care all that much. It's the content I read it for, not to give my eyes something pleasing to see. That said, I use the RSS reader as a route to the pages rather than their content. It becomes particularly frustrating when RSS feeds include HTML markup which they assume will be rendered.

Some of that is what I was saying: that I like the syndication feed to just tell us if there's something new, and maybe a hint of the content, so we can decide whether to then go visit or not, rather than as a replacement for the entire Experience of the Web Page. Because there is (or there may be, or it'd be a pity if there couldn't be) more to that Experience than just reading the latest text. It's not so much that the author may have presented emself well as that e might have presented (wanted to present) something more than just a string of text.

Another reader:

Anyhow, it seems to me that if someone feels that the presentation is important, they shouldn't be offering a full feed on RSS; they should offer a summary instead (AmphetaDesk always includes a link to the source of an item). If they're willing to let you read the text via RSS they must not care that much about the original page presentation.

Also it's a shame that now thousands of people can read your 'blog without ever seeing the gears. Or your text box.

Yeah, the gears and the text box! So I provided a full feed because people like it (and I admit I like it also); but will those people, or some of those people, now miss the gears and/or the input box? At least some of the time? Is that bad? How bad is it?

Vaguely relatedly, I went to Daze Reader the other day just at random, even though the feed reader told me it hadn't updated since the last time I saw it, and indeed it hadn't, but while I was there I poked around the sidebars on Daze (which don't of course show up in the feed) and wandered to Fleshbot (sex warning) and from there to the very memorable this, which I would have hated to have missed. (And relatedly see this, which also links art and porn, but has no feed reader story attached to it.)

My vague thoughts about this stuff are tied up with my thoughts about serendipitous navigation (see the page by that name on Meatball, which I created during my brief Wiki obsession the other month).

Not trying to say that feed readers or efficient searches are evil or anything. Just sort of worrying around the edges of stuff.

Iris Chacon...

Hurry home early, hurry on home, Henry Mancini's fighting Iris Chacon.

yahoo cams


Again indeed! But this week's award winner goes to "Iris Chacon...

grimaced. "Dangerously curvy" indeed. That meant, you couldn't fit in your jeans any more. She reached for the phone, and punched the speed dial for Lourdes. No answer, just voicemail. Iris sighed, and sat down in the swivel chair in front of her computer. 156 spam emails today, some even offering pictures of herself. Depressing. Then her eyes brightened, and she typed into Google, "david.chess nude". The thrill when she hit the search button was indescribable. The best thing in life is anticipation, she told herself, as her screen began to populate.



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