log (2006/05/19 to 2006/05/25)

Sorry, sir. I seem to be commenting on everything.
  — Data, in STNG: Encounter At Farpoint

M got me "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" from (what's what place called?) NetFlix (thanks) for me the other day, and I watched it. It wasn't very good, but by was of recompense I had the fun of writing a scathing review.

And speaking of secret organizations of spies and assassins, I'm going to reprint a large chunk of this Salon piece by Tim Grieve, because I dunno if it's only available to premium subscribers or anything.

First Justice, now the FCC: No NSA investigation

Here's a story that may sound familiar even if you haven't been listening in on anybody's telephone calls. Earlier this month, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility said that it couldn't investigate the role Justice Department lawyers played in the NSA's warrantless spying program because the Bush administration refused to give investigators the necessary security clearances. Now the Federal Communications Commission says it can't investigate the role telephone companies appear to have played in the NSA's telephone database project because the NSA activities are classified.

In a letter to Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, Kevin J. Martin, the former Bush-Cheney campaign lawyer who chairs the FCC, says we can all rest assured that members of the FCC "take very seriously our charge to faithfully implement the nation's laws, including our authority to investigate potential violations of the Communications Act." However, Martin says, "the classified nature of the NSA's activities" leaves the FCC "unable to investigate" the allegation that the telephone companies violated the act by turning over call records to the NSA.

Isn't that comforting? Good to know that our national security is being protected against investigators looking into wrongdoing by those charged with protecting our national security. Or something like that.

And just not to end on that sour note (while still ending before it gets too far past my bedtime), here are the lyrics to Le Tigre's "What's Yr take on Cassavetes", and a Barbelith thread that I googled up on Le Tigre and their role in feminist punk and so on; the reference to What's Yr Take is on page two. (I found Le Tigre by stumbling on "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo" while randomly linking around in the iTunes music store and thinking it was a promising track title.)

So to demonstrate my deep dissatisfaction over our iBook problems the other week, I ordered another one. (That'll teach 'em!)

As Ian points out, this indicates that I wasn't really paying attention, as everyone but me knew that they were about to announce the Intel-CPU replacement for the iBook. They did in fact do that, and being nice guys they put my iBook order on temporary hold and sent me email saying might I want to order a non-obsolete MacBook instead? So I did, and even though it initially had an expected delivery date sometime next week, it came yesterday.


So now the little daughter and I no longer have to try to fit both of our iTunes music collections onto a single computer whose hard disk is roughly the same size as one of our iPods, and I have a new toy to play with (and the little boy wants to know when he's getting his own computer).

I copied over all my iTunes music (about half an hour over 100MBps direct-connect ethernet), and the comparatively tiny amount of other data I had on the iBook, and I let it download and instal the 300MB or so of updates that it wanted to get from Mama. I set up sshificating out to davidchess dot com (with the thought that I might someday switch weblog maintenance from custom Perl scripts here on the ThinkPad to, say, rsync from the MacBook). I downloaded the Eclipse SDK and discovered that the one that I downloaded probably doesn't support OS X on Intel CPUs so now I'm using up most of the house's bandwidth downloading the Stream Stable Build, 3.2RC5, from last Friday (leading edge!), which it sounds like perhaps does.

And mostly I've got a new toy to play with. Pretty much it's just a standard Computer, but there are various odd and fun things (the peculiar noncontiguous keys, the glossy screen, the built-in camera that when you first power it on and start setting up it turns on so you can take an Account Portrait of yourself, which is really good User Experience and very Appley). It's small and light and fast and shiny.

And also it means that there's yet one more thing to do for awhile instead of either writing in my weblog or thinking thoughts worthwhile writing down in my weblog.

Sorry about that. *8)

But we'll see what we can do...

Yet more additions to the Universe of Content: notes on three more books (two very different books on Zen, and one good piece of SF), and two new episodes of The Townie Project (Joe and Mitch both fall in love; Joe gets to move his paramour in, but Mitch is going to have to wait because the place is full up).

Sentence o' the Day: "In the process these inveterate scholiasts generated innumerable and increasingly rarefied conceptual superstructures." And from there, via a search on hihan bukkyo, our Concept o' the Day: the Axial Age.

Just in case you were out of things to think about.

A "life recorder" you can wear on your lapel that constantly records is still a few generations off: 200 gigabytes/year for audio and 700 gigabytes/year for video. It'll be sold as a security device, so that no one can attack you without being recorded. When that happens, will not wearing a life recorder be used as evidence that someone is up to no good, just as prosecutors today use the fact that someone left his cell phone at home as evidence that he didn't want to be tracked?

Trends in American Politics: Bushlandia v. reality, and also Blue Nation, and comparing Bill Clinton to George W. Bush (I was especially struck by the "on honesty" numbers).

Reader input!

Look out for:

princess leia naked
halle barry naked
halle barry
halle bary
princess leia
princess leia
Princess Leia
naked princess leia

Hm, yes, well. Single-minded lot, eh? Let's try another.

What's in there?


Nothing, officer, nothing at all. Aren't there criminals out there somewhere you should be arresting?

For some reason I find this incredibly funny. Go figure. [link]

Contents of the bag of holding:
  4347 gold pieces
  3 uncursed scrolls of blank paper
  2 uncursed scrolls of earth
  an uncursed scroll of light
  an uncursed scroll of charging
  a blessed potion of levitation
  a cursed potion of sickness
  3 uncursed potions of healing
  an uncursed potion of extra healing
  a wand of secret door detection (0:13)
  a wand of fire (0:0)
  a wand of striking (0:4)
  a wand of digging (0:7)
  a cursed wand of make invisible (0:6)
  a wand of make invisible (0:6)
  an uncursed luckstone

why don't you put your hand in and find out?

Meat. Duh.

Much better.

Michael Sklaar (of World Exchange dot org) pointed me at an article about the New Ties project:

The NEW TIES project is growing an artificial society using computer programming that develops agents -- or adaptive, artificial beings -- that have independent behaviours.

And this reminded me of the various evolving-program systems that I've written over the years (I published a paper about the evolution of Iterated Prisoners' Dilemma players in "Complex Systems" way back in 1988, Before The Web). So I dragged out the most recent version of them (which I'd started to code but never quite gotten working before my attention wandered), and got it working and fired it up.

The little beggars figured out how to say "47" very quickly. They also mastered "say the same thing as everyone else is saying" nearly as fast, and "return 47 times the first input variable" only a bit more slowly (only a few thousand generations).

Right now they're working on a more complicated problem: every generation every individual (A) is paired with another randomly-chosen individual (B), and each of them is run on the current input vector and allowed to return a number. If A returns a number exactly one higher than B's number, then A gets a really good score (-1, actually, since in this case low is good). Otherwise, A gets the absolute value of the difference between A's number and B's. (B doesn't get any score at all at this point; it has to wait until it's in the A role earlier or later in the generation). And at the end of the generation the N worst-scoring things are replaced with (possibly-mutated copies of) the N best-scoring ones.

So what I expected is that the whole population would settle on some number (zero, say) for awhile, and then someone would evolve who returned one higher than that (one, say) and get lots of points and therefore have his descendants dominate the population until everyone was returning one, and then eventually someone would invent two and that would spread, and then three, and so on.

But for some reason that's not what's happening. They start out converging on something, say one, and then they invent two, and then three, but then I turn my back and they're all back at two again, or one.

I can't figure it out.

Could be a bug, or just something that's not occurring to me about the system dynamics. Which is part of what makes these things so much fun. *8)

In the old days, running Pascal programs on ancient IBM PC's, I'd be happy to get a few tens of thousands of runs in a day. The current run of this latest thing (even in Java running inside IBM Rational Software Development Platform and spitting a line of text into a GUI every single generation), is somewhere in the five millions.

The system settled on "abs(X/X)" for quite awhile, but the popular meme at the moment is of the form:


which is to say, basically, two (it's been up at least as far as three, and I think four, and I'm clueless as to how it managed to come down again). X is an input value that's uniformly distributed between zero and one thousand, I think; I can't think of any reason the special behavior when X is less than eleven would be advantageous, but it's been in there for several hundred thousand generations now.

Peculiar thing, evolution...

(Ooh, I turned my back and it's doing just "(X/X)" now. And now (approaching generation eight million) it's doing "((X+X)/min(X,X))"!)