log (2008/02/22 to 2008/02/28)

The angel followed the single silver airplane with his eyes, until it faded out of sight behind the hills across the bay. Then he took up his drink again, and turned back to me, to pick up the conversation where we'd left it.

I was struck again by how ordinary he looked, how completely human in every way except that, looking at him, you knew instantly and beyond any doubt that he was an angel.

"So in Heaven," he said, "you become exactly as you have always known yourself to be, exactly as you have pictured yourself, treated yourself, exactly as you expect yourself to be."

I looked over his shoulder, past the balcony railing, across the sun-washed water.

"And Hell?" I asked.

The angel nodded, as though agreeing with me.

"The same."

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't been each other's First Contacts. Virgin civilizations, groping each other in the dark.

"Damn it, damn it, damn it," the smaller of the two men moaned, his head down in his arms on the broken table, as the sounds coming in through the half-boarded-up window swelled louder.

"If they wanted to destroy us, why didn't they just send a missle, an asteroid, a fucking army?"

The taller man took another drink from the bottle in his hand, staring without seeing at the window.

"We started it, you know."

"Bastards, bastards."

"We nearly destroyed them."

"Should have."

"It was the linguists," his voice was rough and slow, detached, almost toneless, "that went out in the first starship. We taught the Tanatha suicide."

"Bastards." The sounds outside moved away a bit, grew softer.

"Their language was utterly alien. No reflexive forms, strange verb tenses. Eventually they learned enough of it to try to ask them questions, eventually they asked them what their word was for 'suicide'. They didn't have one."


"They didn't. They had no reflexive forms, and 'to be' and 'to kill' were such utterly incompatible concepts that they had been literally unable to imagine killing the person that you are. Until we asked the question, and kept asking it until they understood."

He took another long drink, a deep breath, and shuddered. The man at the table raised his head just long enough to wipe his eyes.

"It nearly destroyed their civilization. They didn't have the millennia of evolved defense mechanisms that we do, the cultural institutions that discourage killing yourself, the structures to deal with it.

"They experimented.

"They died.

"Their cultures crumbled."

"Not fucking far enough they didn't," the smaller man muttered, and lay his head down again with a thud.

"They fell so fast. Our linguists came back on the last starship they sent out, along with what was left of their Tanatha colleagues. Half the crew died on the way, but they got here."


"And their linguists, the ones that stayed alive, learned our language in return, and one day they knew enough to ask, to ask what was our word for --"

"No, no, no, no, no," the man slumped over the table moaned monotonously, as another explosion bloomed outside and a chorus of voices raised in an ululating scream, full of fear and an incomprehensible ecstacy.

"What's this one --"

"Careful, I wouldn't --"


"Yeah, that's --"

"Ow! Ow!"



"You don't have to keep --"

"Ow! Ow ow!"

"Um, you know..."

"Ow! What?"

"You don't have to --"


"-- to keep doing that."


"So why --"

"Ow! I don't know, it's -- ow!"


"Kind of -- ow ow ow! -- interesting."

"So you humans are really quite competent," the alien said, leaning back with another alarming creak in the rocking chair, its massive feet up on the porch railing.

Rodriguez raised his eyebrows, "Not sure I'd go that far."

The alien gave a humorous snort, while taking a deep sip from the something-like beer mug in its left upper mandible (an ability Rodriguez still found disconcerting). "Not entirely complimentary, dear sentient," it replied, "in that now I must wonder, given this quiteness of competence, why it is that those of you that came to us at the first, and that still are the ones that come to us much of the time, that those humans are, without offense, idiots?"

The human nodded and leaned back himself, looking out at the children playing in the courtyard.

"A long, sad story," he said.

The alien beside him made an enimgatic burbling sound.

"Yes," it said, "we have those also."

Pakistan protects entire world from the evils of YouTube, sort of more or less by accident. Probably.

Techheads and other curious persons wondering how this happened are referred to RFC 4272 (January 2006), which contains interesting observations such as these:

Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4), along with a host of other infrastructure protocols designed before the Internet environment became perilous, was originally designed with little consideration for protection of the information it carries. There are no mechanisms internal to BGP that protect against attacks that modify, delete, forge, or replay data, any of which has the potential to disrupt overall network routing behavior.
The legitimate BGP peers have the context and information to produce believable, yet bogus, routing information, and therefore have the opportunity to cause great damage.
By modifying or forging this field, either an outsider or BGP peer source could cause disruption of routing to the announced network, overwhelm a router along the announced route, cause data loss when the announced route will not forward traffic to the announced network, route traffic by a sub-optimal route, etc.

Etc, indeed.

To change the subject entirely, the problem with certain things happening on a Saturday is that when you go to work on Monday, no one says "Hey, congratulations on surviving that extremely nasty 18-hour bug; I really hate those!". Everyone acts as though everything was perfectly normal, even though, from your point of view, the world has just recently stopped being a sort of little Hell, and returned to its pleasant and shiny normal.

Still not sure if it was food-poisoning or a really high-speed replicator infection or what. No one else has shown the symptoms, though, touch wood.

There are some links I've wanted to put up for awhile now that would like to accompany a clever discussion of just exactly what they're about, but given that I haven't gotten around to writing that discussion yet, it's left as an exercise to the reader. What might the amusing phrase Google as an MD5 password cracker mean? (See also this tool and this one and this one, and maybe think about the really good image-compression method that involves giving a number to every image anyone actually wants to send, and just sending that number instead of the image.)

One last thing I want to mention before it scrolls away is Justice Scalia's recent statements on torture. The underlying argument he wants to make here is that if there are any circumstances, however implausible, under which one might, however reluctantly, do something to someone, then "we're into a different game", and you can't anymore say "it's no good" (or at least you can't say it smugly and with great self-satisfaction; one generally assumes that that was a rhetorical flourish and not a key part of his argument).

Scalia cheats (as usual, we grumble) in both directions. He describes the usual specious "what if the only way to save everyone in Los Angeles was to smack this guy on the head?" argument (which is specious because not only is that really unlikely to ever be the only way, it's also really unlikely to be even a way, since presumably the guy will just lie until after the bomb goes off). And he uses as his examples of things that aren't really so utterly bad a "smack in the face" and "sticking something under the fingernails". He doesn't mention waterboarding ("controlled drowning"), say, or electrodes to the Ghraibs, or threatening to behead someone's children, or poking out the eyes of innocent babies. So it's not clear where in there, if anywhere, Scalia would still draw a line.

Maybe he would draw the line at threatening or damaging anyone other than the probable (or possible, or President-declared) bad actor from which one is trying to get the information. But why doesn't his argument above, against drawing lines, apply just as well to that line? If smacking the bad guy's kid in the face would get the bad guy to talk and save all those Angelinos, then presumably you still can't say "Oh, this is no good,", can you?

And if you can't say "Oh, this is no good" about poking out the eyes of completely unconnected innocent babies (because there is after all some wildly implausible scenario involving the psychotic baby-hating Evil Emperor Xenu and the hydrogen-bombing of every planet in the galaxy in which you'd be willing to poke those eyes out), then you can't say "Oh, this is no good" about anything, and he's sort of reductio'd himself out of the room.

Don't'cha think?