log (2009/03/20 to 2009/03/26)

Huzzah! I am hereby announcing that M has a weblog! It's all about the cool things that she and her colleagues do with things made of atoms, and it's full of fun atom-related jargon, like over-ones and 40ct Vintage Light Examplars, and NPI conversions. I can't take credit for her finally Seeing The Light; it was her various matter-manipulating colleagues who finally showed her that weblogs don't have to be incomprehensible (like mine, heehee).

So that's fun.

Other than that, I think I will mostly just post some spam! Here is some anti-Bayes text that a colleague at the Lab got the other week and sent me 'cause he liked it:

The hydrogen atom beyond a recliner brainwashes a formless void around the fruit cake, or a bartender slyly learns a hard lesson from some geosynchronous graduated cylinder. Now and then, a pickup truck of the cocker spaniel avoids contact with a microscope behind a buzzard. When a CEO beams with joy, a line dancer inside the freight train daydreams. For example, a cab driver indicates that the globule laughs and drinks all night with a paternal grain of sand. When you see a pickup truck about a garbage can, it means that the dust bunny of a fire hydrant hides.

Just as we were talking about it, I got this:

A wedge inexorably trades baseball cards with a mastadon. An ocean goes to sleep, and a hockey player seldom plans an escape from the blood clot behind the turn signal a satellite about a corporation. A paycheck eagerly finds subtle faults with the tripod. When an oil filter behind an anomaly is shabby, a plaintiff almost gives secret financial aid to a blood clot near the turn signal. A fat pine cone completely befriends a loyal mastadon.

Now while "When a CEO beams with joy, a line dancer inside the freight train daydreams" and "a paternal grain of sand" have a certain immediate appeal, it becomes all too obvious all too quickly that this is just someone running a small generative grammar with a random-number source, and there's no semantics of any kind behind it. So the novelty wears off quickly.

A few days later I got this:

Not that there are no other fish in the ocean upon whom I can sling my hook, but who can be like my dear Betsy that loves me with such generosity of heart? I love a hand that meets my own with a grasp that causes some sensation and which only your's can do. I love you not only because of beauty but for your sense of decency, delicacy, kindness and other complementary qualities. I can't help doting on you. Therefore all my gestures of love towards you come straight from the bottom of my heart, don't we?" Vera said: "How was it worked - that trick with the marble bear?"

A bit of googling about shows that this is part of a letter on some rather baffling "free love letters" site, segueing boldly into some dialog from Christie's "And Then There Were None". Clearly derivative, but especially right at the juncture there ("... from the bottom of my heart, don't we?") there's a nicely thrilling novelty, a frisson of surprise. And the marble bear dropping on us out of the blue is rather delightful. I don't know just what sort of algorithms were used to select the passages and splice them together; one can imagine all sorts of interesting Dissociated Press variants that might serve, and might have interestingly adjustable parameters in them. Snipping up the input texts a bit more finely, in particular, might increase the novelty (and/or reduce the coherency).

The former technique is a more obvious way of producing random but roughly convincing text; I wrote some programs like that in my youth, and they sometimes had funny results. The latter, if it really does belong to the Dissociated Press family in some significant way, is more random and uncontrolled, and informed by a different kind of information about actual language (more statistical and less structured), and tends to produce wilder and funnier, if often less grammatically correct, stuff.

Hey, how did I manage to analyze myself all the way out onto the end of this limb here? What a silly place to be!

In closing, M points us to The Guild, a story about (I gather, from having watched like two episodes) a bunch of WoW players and their real-life (if fictional) trials and tribulations, presented as a bunch of web videos each like three or four minutes long. Which might be just about right...

"We close our show tonight with a statement by President Obama that's been raising alot of eyebrows around Washington.

"Asked at a White House press conference why he had delayed before endorsing the public beheading of everyone associated with troubled mortgage giant AIG, here's what the President had to say:

"It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak, you know?"

"With us now to discuss this is our morning show political analyst, Keith Lacuna. Hey there, Keith."

"Good evening, Chet."

"So, Keith, was this just a case of President Obama going off-script? Do you think we'll have a 'clarification' from the White House tomorrow?"

"No, Chet, I think he really means it."

"Really means it?"

"Yes, Chet."

"But isn't this the sort of thing that just feeds the idea that President Obama is elitist, and not really in touch with the American People?"

"Well, Chet..."

"I mean, aren't people more comfortable, and more used to, people on television just mindlessly repeating whatever appears on the teleprompter, under the control of the shadowy overlords who really run the country?"

"You know, Chet, on that I think it's error reading teleprompter input; file is in use by another process. Basically."

"A good point, Keith. But back to this remarkable statement by the President. Is there any precedent for this? Would this be the first time a President would know what he was talking about?"

"Not at all, Chet. While it was of course completely unheard of in the previous administration, you may remember that Bill Clinton would --"

"Sorry, Keith, that's Bill...?"

"Bill Clinton? President before George W. Bush?"

"Ah, right, right, the intern and the cigar and so on. Sorry, go ahead."

"Bill Clinton quite often knew what he was talking about."

"But didn't he have that, you know, sort of grin?"

"It's true President Clinton always looked as though he was telling a friendly little fib that we were all in on, but studies show that 84.7% of the time he in fact knew what he was talking about."

"Are there really studies that show that?"

"No, I just made that up 'cause it sounded good."

"Whew, you had me worried for a minute there! Ha ha."

"Ha ha ha!"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

What I'm saying is that server-side solutions invariably lead to sinister necromantic cabals.

Oh man, take care! What does the deep midnight declare?

There ought to be a word, maybe a German word like "shaudenfreude", for when there's something that you'd like to do, and you keep not doing it, and the fact that you haven't done it for so long becomes one of the reasons for not doing it, at least partly because you feel guilty or at least regretful for not having done it for so long, and so just thinking about doing it is to that extent slightly unpleasant, and so you keep not doing it until somehow finally you do and then everything is fine again.

Like, say, posting to one's weblog. *8)

I think this is the longest I've gone without posting since I started the whole thing like back in 1999. But hey, that is a mere fact! And here we are.

I've been posting considerable (well, comparatively considerable) to the secret Second Life weblog, and playing lots of Second Life and World of Warcraft. Dale has a piece of art in a show ("Masks!") that's opening in SL this weekend, and Spennix just hit level 79 (just one more to go, woot!). This morning I went over to one of them HQ type locations to talk with a VP (very bright lady!) about Cloud Computing and all, and so I am wearing a shirt with buttons, and no nice cotton tee shirt (T-shirt) under it, and I am chilly brrrrrr.

Hold on a sec while I go change into like a flannel nightshirt, okay?

There! Much better. Flannel nightshirt, and flannel robe over it. And maybe I'll put on some water to boil.

Aperture Science: We do what we must, because we can.

That's from the brilliant closing theme to the game "Portal", a game that I still haven't played (because it wants over a gigabyte of free space to install, and the machine in the playroom hasn't had that much disk space free de longtemps), but of whose culture I am very fond.

And the song is stuck in my head.

You just keep on trying 'til you run out of cake.


So I had this clever idea of a thing to post here about Current Events, and while that was awhile back so it's not quite as Current anymore, still here it is:

So good news! Bernie Madoff, or someone superficially similar in appearance to Bernie Madoff, is behind bars! Justice is served!

It occurs to me to wonder, though, a few things, purely hypothetically.

How much would it cost to really convincingly fake one's own death? And if one had between seven and seventy billion (with a "b") dollars of stolen money around and was about to be caught, why wouldn't one?

How much would it cost to obtain someone bearing a superficial physical similarity to one, have that similarity artificially increased, and drug or coerce or incent or hypnotize that person into pretending to be one, or actually thinking that they were in fact one? Would it cost more than, say, five billion dollars?

And how much, while we're on the subject, would it cost to create and train an elite strike-force capable of swooping down out of nowhere on their radar-proof ornithopters, snatching one out of the clutches of the law while one is on the way to the slammer, and spiriting one away to (say) one's secret antarctic base? And how much are the authorities doing to prevent this sort of thing?

Just hypothetically.

"Still Alive" (the song above) is apparently by the brilliant Jonathan Coulton, who also did "Re: Your Brains". (See memorable WoW machinima version, to which I may have linked previously.)

Which is now (also?) stuck in my head.

Speaking of egregious random YouTube videos, It's a big ad! And relatedly (relatedly?) Extreme Sheep Herding (which is unfortunately some sort of Samsung ad, but what can ya do?).

So okay that's that. What else has been going on? Did you know the Internet broke briefly, back in February? A pretty neat story, really.

Thus for this event to have occurred at all, besides the bugs in the router software of two vendors, only a few percent of the ASes on the Internet could have possibly initiated the meltdown, but only if they had a careless operator and an obscure Latvian router with outdated software. How likely was that?

And the Geeks In Charge got it working again fast enough that no one really noticed. Or at least it didn't make the headlines.

Australia seems to be imposing secret government censorship on its citizens' network access, which is sort of odd for, you know, a non-totalitarian country. As the headlines put it, banned hyperlinks could cost you 11,000 dollars a day. And you can't find out which hyperlinks banned, unless of course you find the list on the network, which if you're in Australia you might have a hard time doing, since while the censorship was imposed to Protect the Children (won't anyone think of the children??), it has of course widened to include censoring information about the censorship itself, and about other things like it, and unless someone cuts its heads off soon, it will spread to censorship of anything the censors don't like. Which is why non-totalitarian countries don't do this kind of thng.

So good luck, Australia! Hope you get better soon.

And speaking of hydras whose heads need to be cut off soon, here is a very juicy story about election fraud via electronic voting machines, which everyone should read, so that next time someone says "oh sure the geeks are worried about it in theory, but it's never actually happened", you can say "um, well, in fact...".

And just to round things out, here's a story from the other direction, where little shoots of grass (grass mud horses, even) are pushing up through the grimy concrete of totalitarianism in China: the song of the grass mud horse.

And now it's late, and although I'm having fun writing in my weblog (hi!) I do want to duck into Second Life for a bit before I sleep, and I'm going to have to remember how to post this (my old Perl scripts got broken when I installed or upgraded Cygwin on this machine, so I have to issue arcane scp commands by hand) so it'll take awhile.

We'll close with a couple of lines from William Henry Davies (which we were reminded of by a silly Second Life pastiche).

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Or, similarly, to sit and purr...