log (2006/01/27 to 2006/02/02)

So ("So") last Saturday I gave my usual annual talk on computer viruses and stuff ("Is That Safe? Computer viruses and related threats in 2006") to the usual bunch of beautiful High School kids in the Honors Math and Science program at the lab.

That's always lots of fun, because I get to see all those innocent faces, and because I don't actually have to do anything much: I spend a little while updating the slides the week before with the Latest Events, and then on the Saturday I just turn the reins over to the one of us that gives talks, and I can sort of sit back and admire him in action.

I don't know; I think if I had to give these various talks that I give myself, I'd like have stage-fright and stuff. But fortunately I have someone else in here who does it for me. If he has stage fright or anything, he certainly doesn't show it. (He does talk pretty fast, like most of us do, but he sort of makes a joke of it, and the audience seems to be able to cope.)

Then this afternoon I was sitting in the cafeteria in the lab up north doing email, and Steve who used to have a weblog pinged me over the network, and when I said I was in the lab up north he called me on my Cellular Phone. He had sort of half of an idea that he wanted to talk about, to see if I might be able to suggest another fraction of an idea to go with it.

I don't have a name for the one who gives the talks, but the one that answers questions like the one Steve asked me I sometimes think of as the Oracle. I roused up the Oracle, sitting there at the table, and it (he?) reluctantly (or mock-reluctantly, like a pretend-grouchy Uncle) came up with a piece of an idea that I could describe, and Steve and I kicked it around a little, and Steve liked it quite a bit, and it might eventually make a difference in the world, or get patented, or whatever.

Now I'm not saying that the rest of us are lame, or aren't able to do some pretty useful things, but it's the Oracle that really pays the bills. It's a demanding and reluctant creature, moaning and groaning and bringing to bear huge behemoths of procrastination rather than actually producing anything, and demanding to be fed constantly even when it's asleep (I mean, I do enjoy reading weblogs and playing computer games and stuff, but always while I'm doing it I know it's partly to feed the Oracle). But when it does eventually deign (manage?) to speak, what it says sometimes fits into the world in certain ways that, well, among other things, that people are willing to pay for.

Not that everything it says is wonderful or deep or valuable: by no means. Sometimes it says things and those things get taken up and admired to a greater or lesser degree, but other times they get misinterpreted or (more often) just ignored. And I can't see any intrinsic difference, myself, between the ones that get taken up and the ones that get ignored. (The Oracle sleepily suggests that, given food and time (lots and lots of time) it could suggest ways to tell the difference; but it's always saying stuff like that, and you can't believe everything it says.)

There are various projects at work that I've been gathering Oracle-food on for awhile now, wondering what the heck they're actually about and what the way forward will turn out to look like. Figuring that out (if "figuring out" is the right word for whatever mysterious internal processes it uses) is the Oracle's job, and and I've been prodding at it a bit, reminding it that it needs to pull its weight, and we can't wait forever. I hope it's paying some attention.

(I don't know why it's so reluctant to wake up, and why having it awake is so (what?) uncomfortable. Does it suffer when prodded into motion? Or does it enjoy its dreams so much more that it begrudges the time away from them? Are there other fields of endeavor, or other habits of life or mind, in which it would be eager to wake up and work? I'm not sure I know what that would be like. It may be that while awake it burns energy (what kind of energy?) so fast that the long sleeps in between wakings are of necessity, not of choice or preference.)

Ref Borges, of course. But it's not quite the same thing. I do various public things myself; it's just me (I think!) that writes the weblog here, and that does email, and that asks silly questions in meetings (although the answers are more Oracle-feed), and that plays with the family and eats bagels and lox in the big bed on Sunday mornings. It's just me, mostly, that chats with people before and after my talks (although the one who gives the talks is always hovering nearby, and can take over as required).

But then there's the one who gives the talks, and there's the Oracle. And there's the one that writes the NaNoWriMo novels: I admire that one greatly, not for the overall quality of the novels so much as for those occasional perfect moments where art opens into the world. I have no idea how he does that.

There isn't, and wow hey come to think of it that really explains alot doesn't it, one of us that specializes in smalltalk and socialization with normal people. I have to do that all by myself, and boy am I lousy at it. Occasionally the one who gives the talks, or even one of the others, tries to take over in those situations; they're even worse.

Rereading this I'm not sure I'm quite happy with it, or that it's quite what I meant, or that it's particularly true. Maybe I should have let one of the others do it. *8) But hey, there it is. It'll do for now.

So I was listening to NPR like yesterday, and this Oil Industry Spokesman was saying that sure, they made a ten billion dollar profit last quarter, and they made more money last year than any company in the world has ever made in one year before, but that we shouldn't really make a big deal about it, and that if you look at how huge and wealthy the oil industry is, they only really made like nine cents on the dollar, and that's not unusual.

The message is, that is: "Don't be annoyed because we made ten billion dollars last quarter; when you're as incredibly rich as we are, that's just peanuts! Excuse me while I light my cigar from this thousand dollar bill."

Way to go, Oil Industry PR Department! Any feelings of envy or lustful desires for windfall profits taxes that I might have felt have melted away like the morning dew under the comforting warmth of this explanation.

Other than that, we find a large number of tattered fragments tastefully arranged on our plate (with a side of guacamole).

Catholic Church copyrights divine will, asks 3-5% cut or will sue. (From an interesting if Latin-jargon-dense weblog recently made famous by Andrew Sullivan.)

Flying car discovered in Australia via Google satellites.

Security for browser cookies: basically it doesn't work. Which is sort of too bad.

Important Life Skills Department: from Michael Turyn, an Essay on talking dirty in Esperanto.

- 4 for "helen naked pictures"
- 4 for "mia"
- 3 for "naked helen pictures"
- 2 for "free tanya harding sex tape"
- 2 for "naked pictures of helen"
- 2 for "stretches infinitely in both directions"
- 1 for "bed rest"
- 1 for "buckle"
- 1 for "hdcp"
- 1 for "naked nigerian women"

A kind and generous reader writes:

I feel I must take exception to your statement "Language cannot express truth". Sometimes in the hands of a master it comes razor-blade close. Case in point [link].

Especially the part about the water. I loved the part about the water.

We liked that part too.

More generally, a reader writes:

brilliant. thx.

yr wlcm!

On one of our favorite subjects, another reader writes:

The spam just keeps coming....

... and I am getting some very lovely subject lines these days.

Hiltraud Hackbarth writes to me Re: snowmobile betrayal

Dima Braun writes to me Re: armpit pleurisy

Pru Findlay writes to me Re: semifinal scrape

(armpit pleurisy, ick)

Ick indeed.

A long time ago, Steve who used to have a weblog pointed out the rather amazing gapminder dot org. Excruciatingly well-presented information.

Rocketboom is like a weblog, except that it's all audio and video, which means that (well) you can watch it and listen to it, but it doesn't get like indexed in Google and stuff.

Sims! A story about a playboy and a maid, and a house full of babies.

Two important How To essays:

Three security related weblogs that I'd read if I had time to read any more weblogs (so maybe you folks could read them for me, and let me know if they say anything interesting?).

Stop Congress Mandating Secret Technology:

The Digital Transition Content Security Act (H.R.4569) - or Analog Hole bill - would force every video digitizing device in America to watch for and obey a VEIL watermark, a proprietary signal embedded in video broadcasts. But how would such a detector work? What would be its cost? And how secure is the watermark? Security researchers don't know - because the company behind VEIL won't let them look at the technology without first obtaining a "license." A license to examine the VEIL specification costs $10,000 and requires signing a non-disclosure agreement that forbids revealing the details of the technology to others. Congress is choosing a technology that must be built into your systems, and it's not giving non-entertainment industry experts the opportunity to check out the technology first to make sure it doesn't break your systems, or, even worse, leave those systems vulnerable to attack.

Man, the Consortium is even more (something) than I thought. Note, though, that the fact that VEIL is secret isn't the Biggest Problem here; even if it were public and open, it'd still be unacceptable to require that it be stuck into every device in the universe. (Don't get distracted by the fact that the prison bars are a tacky color.)

The president hasn't fired Noel Hillman, the chief prosecutor in the Jack Abramoff case, but he has managed to achieve the same result: Bush nominated Hillman for a seat on the federal bench this week, and Hillman immediately resigned from his job as chief of the Justice Department's public integrity division.
Adding to Democrats' suspicions: An investigation into Abramoff's activities in Guam ended abruptly in 2002, when Bush replaced the longtime acting U.S. attorney who was running it.

I opened a piece of spam at random, and it turns out that one recent spam algorithm is trying its hand at poetry again. Here are a couple:

Is do fit
was send sleep
open sign finish
As clean wakeup
no say hear
Which spell start
To hurt start
Which shut cough
I borrow sleep
do shut learn
to drink bring

it forget tell
evening fill believe
she begin fly
use give travel
incredible sign speak
night need fall
don't start spell
evening wakeup allow
Is try find
english take fly
evening swim organise

Ooh, somehow "organise" is so Wrong. (And I don't mean the spelling; that's just indicative.)

"We've given every employee holy water and a machete; past that, it's up to the individual to stay alert in their work environment."

A reader writes:

Dude! The Rosicrucian Museum is right down the street in San Jose: come visit!

Another datapoint for estimating our world-wide fame! Not only do we have at least two assistant professors of mathematics, we also have someone down the street from a randomly-chosen obscure museum. Look out, Tatum O'Neal!

The poll found that 53 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Bush's authorizing eavesdropping without prior court approval "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism"; 46 percent disapproved. When the question was asked stripped of any mention of terrorism, 46 percent of those respondents approved, and 50 percent said they disapproved.

In a related story, 87% of those surveyed sort of wondered about that "without prior court approval" part, but were in too much of a hurry to get rid of the pollster to say anything.

AMERICAVILLE -- Mayor Bush today defended his administration's use of police cars without brakes, saying that the cars were necessary in the fight against crime.

"Criminals have cars," the Mayor said at a Town Hall press conference today, "so the police need cars. If the police are forced to run after the criminals on foot, they'll never catch up! Heh heh."

Other administration officials stressed the importance of police cars in combatting crime. One mayoral spokesman said that brakes would be a "cumbersome" addition to the city's police cars.

"Brakes slow cars down. In the war on crime, it is vital that our city's police cars not slow down!"

Questioned about Mayor Bush's statement in 2004, two years after the no-brake policy was secretly instituted, that for safety reasons all police cars would be equipped with state-of-the-art brakes, the spokesman explained that "Mayor Bush in that instance was talking about some other police cars."

"Look!" the spokesman continued, "It's Halley's Comet!"

A traffic safety expert contacted for this story sat wordlessly at his desk, repeatedly bashing his forehead against the wood.

(I know, I know, Fafblog did it better. At least twice. But we couldn't resist.)