Tuesday, January 31, 2006

[politics] One less voice

The Liquid List has a post up with a great quote to mark the passing today of Coretta Scott King. I'll try to reproduce it here, at some risk of kicking Fair Use squarely in the cods:
Dr. King said of his wife, in an interview in 1967 that, [...] "I must admit---I wish I could say--to satisfy my masculine ego, that I led her down this path [of economic and racial activism]; but I must say we went down together, because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now."
In her own words, "Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation." * * Can't find a primary source for this quote - it's widely attributed to her online, but the bulk of the citations that Google finds are from term-paper mills, and I ain't gonna link to those...

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Monday, January 30, 2006

[random][geek] The sky above the port

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984) #30... That's all. [via TBogg]

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

[politics] Paging Lucretia Borgia...

iStockPhoto - Copyright: Mark Goldman Newsweek has an interesting article out about the people within the Department of Justice who resisted the Administration's embrace of torture and refutation of international law. It also provides some insight into the infighting that took place during Ashcroft's tenure - infighting that I suspect led to his resignation. It's a heartening read, if only because it reminds one that there really are people out there who care about the rule of law. Of course, it's a depressing read as well: if this debate had been more public, how much of our current mess could we have avoided?

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

[politics] From the "Even a broken clock is right twice a day" department

iStockPhoto - Copyright: Ines Gesell Andrew Sullivan:
But this is the Bush administration. King George doesn't have to obey the law; and his military can do anything they want.
Kidnapping, hostages, collective punishment of civilians for supporting insurgents: these are all war crimes. This is not some "he-said/she-said" dispute over how white phosphorus was deployed in Fallujah - this is the US military openly admitting to committing war crimes. (Yeah, I know... if you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably read Atrios, which is where the Sullivan link came from.)

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[random][geek] End of a technological era

iStockPhoto - Copyright Bryn Donaldson As of yesterday, 27 Jan 2006, Western Union will no longer send telegrams. (Surprised? Evidently, the telegram isn't quite extinct yet...) One-hundred-seventy-five years, plus or minus a decade - longer than the rotary phone, eh? Not a bad run for the telegram; I wonder if the internal combustion engine'll last as long.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

[geek][random] Okay, that's weird...

My 3-star review of Developing Serious Games was deleted from Amazon. WTF? The only review that's there now is a 5-star review by someone who has no other reviews, and who clearly hasn't read the friggin' book... Grrr... Update: I posted another (3-star) review, titled "Okay, but not great":
I had high hopes for this book, as I work for a small software company that is teetering on the brink of becoming a producer of 'serious games'. Unfortunately, this book failed to meet my expectations. The book is a good overview of the contemporary state of the field. It touches upon games development in general, best practices for software development, ditto for game development; it covers dev tools, platforms & engines; it covers art and sound resources. It discusses funding sources, and the differences between 'entertainment games' and 'serious games'. There is also a good history of 'serious games', starting with the earliest military flight simulators and ending with current releases for, among other platforms, the iPod. In short, it covers everything. And, as such, it covers nothing in particular in much depth. Apart from the history, there really isn't anything in this book that probably can't be gleaned from spending time on Gamasutra.com, gamedev.net, or igda.org. I also found some of the editing to be sloppy. The writing is quite strong, but the proofreading left a bit to be desired: "a" for "an", "fist" for "first". There may not have been a lot of these typos, but the ones I noticed were quite jarring. If you're looking for a 50,000-ft view of the field, this book will probably suffice. If you're looking for an intensely geeky dev-oriented book, you will probably be left wanting more. Don't get me wrong - there are some great things in this book for a developer, such as the appendices with their snapshots of tools and concepts. It is also a great 'all-in-one-place' resource. But I'm not sure if this book will stay on my shelf of 'keepers'; we'll see.
Let's see if this one gets deleted as well...

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

[geek] 20 years/2 minutes, 45 seconds

Do you remember this moment? I do. I was at school, coming down the stairs with a couple of friends, heading for lunch. Some kids came running up the stairs excitedly: "Did you hear what happened?" "What?" one of my friends remarked sarcastically "Did the space shuttle blow up?" "Yeah! It did!" Twenty years ago today this Saturday, Challenger disintegrated shortly before noon EST. Two minutes and forty-five seconds later, the crew compartment splashed into the Atlantic, killing all seven astronauts aboard. Two minutes and forty-five seconds.

2 Comments:

Blogger Patrick Connors said...

You're two days early. It was the 28th.

1/26/2006 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

D'oh... Thanks for catching that...

1/26/2006 12:00:00 PM  

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[politics] In which I call...

iStockphoto - copyright Daniel Brunner Ignoring for the moment the surreal feeling I experienced upon reading the headline "Bush: Take bin Laden attack threat seriously" (wouldn't that be nice...), I was particularly outraged by this line from Bush's speech at the NSA (paragraph 11 of the article linked above):
Officials here learn information about plotters and planners and people who would do us harm,” Bush said, reading from note cards. “Now, I understand there’s some in America who say, ‘Well, this can’t be true there are still people willing to attack.’ All I would ask them to do is listen to the words of Osama bin Laden and take him seriously.”
(emphasis mine) Mr. President, if you would be so kind as to point out anyone who has suggested that there aren't any groups or individuals in the world who wouldn't like to attack us, I would really appreciate it. No, really. I'm waiting... *crickets* Yeah, that's what I thought. I am also pissed off by the qualified contradiction of the President's words that follows in the next paragraph:
However, no one in the political debate over the war on terror or the NSA program has suggested that terrorists no longer want to attack the United States. Rather, Bush’s critics have argued that the law requires him to get permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to eavesdrop on communications involving Americans.
"[N]o one in the political debate" - uh... how about just "no one": "However, no one has suggested that terrorists no longer want to attack the United States." It's a bullshit mischaracterization for the sake of appearing balanced. It gives credence to the President's bullshit by suggesting that there are some people who think that no one out there in the big, wide world wants to attack the United States. While I'm sure that if you tried hard enough you could find one or two such people, I'm also pretty sure that such people would also be, how shall I phrase it delicately, crazier than the proverbial shithouse rats. (Yes, that's a technical term.) So there you have it, folks; I'm calling it like I see it. Fresh, steaming cow pies for the AP and the White House both. I'm calling bullshit.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

[random] Pierced with enchantment

So, once we finished reading the full Chronicles of Narnia with The Boy, we knew it was really only a matter of time before we tried The Hobbit. We weren't too sure about the language - my impression is that Tolkien's work is somewhat more sophisticated than Lewis', and that's saying a lot - but a couple of weeks ago something made it obvious that now was as good a time as any. It's been a blast... I went and picked up the hardcover edition with illustrations by Alan Lee. After flipping through all the illustrated editions at the UW bookstore, this one was the right balance of images to text: there's a minimum of one full-page color plate and one smaller black & white illustration per chapter, which is seems to be a pretty optimal mix for holding The Boy's attention when the words get too dense (not that he's been afraid to ask what words or phrases mean). We needn't have worried - he's enthralled. I suspect that the illustrations are really just gravy; he's been a rapt listener, even through the archaic phrasing and tongue-twisters such as "Balin bade Bilbo" (you say that aloud after a glass of Jo'burg Riesling, I dare you). There was even one night this week when he was ignoring us during his bed-time routines - the consequence that he incurred was that there would be no Hobbit that evening. He was heartbroken, sobbing, even though he probably wound up with a story that took as long to read as our bite-sized morsels of Middle Earth. So... what next? We suspect that Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books are till too scary, so we'll probably move on to the first Harry Potter book. (The title comes from the description of Bilbo's reaction to seeing the scope of Smaug's horde for the first time - and it does yeoman's work describing The Boy's reaction to the book pretty well, I think...)

5 Comments:

Anonymous spyderkl said...

Out of curiosity, how old is The Boy? We've tried reading Alice in Wonderland with Big Girl (she'll be 4 next month) and it's tough for her to stay focused until the end of a chapter - or even a section some evenings.

1/26/2006 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

I wouldn't use him as a benchmark - he ain't right. ;-)

He's 5 1/2, but he's always had a great attention span (and a freakishly large vocabulary). We read Alice about a year ago - a lot of the wordplay went over his head, but he loved the absurdity of it. Of course, he also loves Captain Underpants, so take that as you will.

1/26/2006 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Mez said...

The Hobbit (as opposed to The Lord of the Rings) is very well designed as a read-aloud book. Remember John Ronald was probably trying it out on his brood.

[digression] I really love the idea that his oldest surviving son, living in the south of France(?), keeps boars instead of dogs as guard animals on his grounds. After the films, I suppose they're well-fed boars now. [/digression]

1/27/2006 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger Mez said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/27/2006 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

Yeah, you can really tell that The Hobbit was written with a younger audience in mind - and that LotR was written for an older audience (iirc, a lot of LotR was written for Christopher while he was serving in the South African RAF...) and that it was written during dark times for the British Empire. I don't think Tolkien was consciously writing an allegory of WW2 - but I can't see how current events couldn't have influenced him, his protestations to the contrary.

And yes... those are probably very well-fed boars.

1/27/2006 07:48:00 AM  

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Monday, January 23, 2006

[geek] Review of Developing Serious Games

Serious games are video games that serve a serious purpose: they cover the gamut from the military's most sophisticated simulators to iPod- or PDA-based games designed to assist surgical residents. That's a lot of turf, on a lot of platforms, using a lot of tools... and this book, Developing Serious Games by Bryan Bergeron, shows it... I just got the book today, and just finished it an hour or so ago. Here's my Amazon review ('wickerman' is another, older 'net pseudonym I've used) - I gave it three stars:
I don't know what I expected from this book, and, as a result, I think I probably got what I deserved. I had high hopes for this book; I work for a small software company that is teetering on the brink of becoming a producer of 'serious games', and I was hoping for some kind of bolt from the blue, some kind of revelation. My career, my company at a frontier - should we cross in? Or should we run screaming? Peering into the entrails of this book, what dark auguries could I see? Unsurprisingly, the answer is 'not too much'. That's too much to expect from a book, and honestly, I knew that going in. So what is the book good for? The book is a good overview of the contemporary state of the field. It touches upon games development in general, best practices for software development, ditto for game development; it covers dev tools, platforms & engines; it covers art and sound resources. It discusses funding sources, and the differences between 'entertainment games' and 'serious games'. In short, it covers everything. And, as such, it covered nothing in particular in depth. Labeling on the back to the contrary, I didn't feel like this was a book geared towards software developers. Rather, it felt like an accessible book geared towards anyone with some familiarity with software development: PMs, VCs, CEOs, software devs and testers, media and art specialists... There're a couple of C/C++ code snippets, there's some pseudo-code, but compared to, say, the pages of calculus in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, the technical content of this book is really quite low: if you don't need to understand code, you can probably safely skip these bits and still understand how the big picture bits apply to you in your role. I also found some of the editing to be sloppy. The writing is strong, but the proofreading left a bit to be desired: "a" for "an", "fist" for "first". CRM: sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. There may not have been a lot of these typos, but the ones I noticed were quite jarring. If you're looking for a 50,000-ft view of the field, this book will probably suffice. If you're looking for an intensely geeky dev-oriented book, you will probably be left wanting more. Perhaps I'll change my mind in a day or so, but I doubt it. Don't get me wrong - there are some great things in this book for a developer, such as the appendices with their snapshots of tools and concepts. But I'm not sure if this book will stay on my shelf of 'keepers'. We'll see.
Random and tangential thought... With Amazon's new 'tagging' system, you can create your own taxonomy for your books, much like Technorati or Ice Rocket allows for blog content or Flickr does for images. If, as in the case of this book, a potential reviewer sees that the author has personally tagged the book, what impact do you think that'll have on the review? More fawning? More confrontational? Or will the prospective reviewer be intimidated enough to not post a review at all?

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[random] Field observation: why I could never be a teacher

The lions of the Serengeti ain't got nuthin' on a room of kindergarteners in the presence of a substitute teacher. Fear? Weakness? Uncertainty? Blam! They're on it, teeth sunk in deep, claws raking, head shaking to tear off chunks of steaming flesh. It wasn't pretty. Me, I think her mistake was not responding to them like Ash in Army of Darkness:
Now listen up, you primitive screwheads. See this? This... is my boomstick!
This is why I will never be a teacher.

2 Comments:

Anonymous spyderkl said...

Oh my. Sounds like my lone encounter with an 8th grade science class as a sub. I think at one point in the day I grabbed somebody's drumsticks and broke them. Always liked kindergarteners, though.

1/24/2006 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

Middle school... there're some special years...

I can't get on too high of a horse - when I was in 7th grade, we drove a novice French teacher to quit halfway through the year. The smell of weakness, I tell ya'.

Still, the transformation of The Boy's kindergarten class (The Boy included) was something to behold - it definitely caught me off guard.

1/24/2006 11:59:00 AM  

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

[geek] 30-second science blogging - Back from extinction: a dead language lives

Driven by the desire for authenticity, writer/director Terence Malick of the upcoming film The New World wanted the lines of Pocahontas and Powhatan to be spoken in Virginian Algonquin. No problem, right? Too bad no one has spoken that dialect in over 200 years. The linked MSNBC article tells the fascinating tale of the apparently successful attempt to revive a dead language. Quite an accomplishment, given that of the 15 or so known Algonquin dialects of the East Coast, only two survive to this day. Working from 16th and 17th century documents, existing Algonquin grammar, and an academic gold standard 'proto-Algonquin', UNC (Charlotte) linguist Blair Rudes was able to create a fairly likely reconstruction of Virginian Algonquin. His approach was flexible enough that Malick was able to expand the number of Algonquin-with-English subtitles scenes from two to fifty; they were even able to improvise dialog with minimal turn-around time. Not bad for a 'dead' language. How cool is that?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

[random][geek] Quote of the Day

iStockphoto - copyright Bryce Kroll "...most chemical explosives contain less energy per unit mass than ordinary table butter, but fortunately the butter is too stable to explode." Fortunate, indeed. Last sentence, third paragraph. (Oh, there're some cool photos there, too...)

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Monday, January 16, 2006

[politics] Power at its best...

...is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

[politics] I've got/a miniature secret camera

iStockphoto - copyright Greg Bruins I've been thinking about the complaints that I've read recently from both the right and left about the Alito hearings: too superficial, too much grandstanding, too self-aggrandizing for the Senators involved. I've also been thinking about the two remedies that I have heard discussed: limiting the access of television to hearings, and creating a Select Committee to handle nominations either before or in lieu of the full Senate hearings. Frankly, the idea of creating yet another committee for the Senate strikes me as an awful idea. And the idea of restricting the access of the press to public workings of the Federal Government in an era of press conferences that consist of stonewalling and talking points repeated ad nauseum, restricted access to information previously deemed public, and entrenched talking heads and pundits who exist primarily to preserve their own access to politicians and power brokers... Well, let's just say that I think such a restriction counts as a Bad Idea-comma-Colossal. But I have an idea - and I think it's a good one. I think that not only does this idea tie into our current culture wonderfully, it would decrease public corruption (no more Abramoff-style scandals), elevate public debate (no more grandstanding in lieu of informed discussion), and increase public participation in the political process. And we already have the infrastructure (or at least most of it) that we would need to do so. Turn the Federal Government into the ultimate reality TV show. I'm not talking CSPAN's dry and boring gavel-to-gavel coverage that is devoid of context (and interest). I'm talking Survivor. I'm talking Fear Factor. I'm talking entertainment, baby! Think about it: every office in Washington, DC, becomes wired for video & sound, MTV's Big Brother on a grand scale. Everyone who wants to work for the Feds needs to sign a waiver stating that they understand that everything that they do might be recorded. You want to be a lobbyist? Same applies for you. Congressman? Yup. Bureaucrat? Uh-hunh. Anything that anyone does in the name of The People or The Republic or Plain Old Greed gets recorded (with very specific exemptions for, say, national security). Oh, we can guarantee certain kinds of privacy for family time as well, but even that will be conditional. You see, we then create a special Public Accountability division of the NSA. They filter every phone call, every taped meeting, every video tape, and apply their Sooper-Seekirt data mining voodoo to it. Then they focus on the high points, and spin a feed off to the television producers. All the juicy bits, all the arm-twisting, all the deal making and alliance breaking, all the payoffs and promises. All the seductions, fiscal and sexual. All the tradeoffs, personal and political. If something in your life, private or public, triggers an NSA red flag, off it goes into the queue. Everything. And they turn it into a slick TV show. And then we get to vote on it, just like American Idol. We get to choose what stories to pursue, what questions get asked in hearings, who should be booted off the island. Imagine the voter guides and campaign commercials that could be made! And you know how we'll know it's working? When we have to cancel the series because of low ratings. [title from Peter Murphy's song of the same name (from the Pump up the Volume soundtrack); image from iStockphoto]

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

[geek][politics] More annoyances

Declan McCullagh, C|NET author of the piece on anonymous blogging "with intent to annoy", points out something that has been overlooked in the ensuing debate - the law, as amended, appears to change the definition of Internet communication:
Before the new law took effect Thursday, 47 USC 223 explicitly said it "does not include an interactive computer service." The changes override that for the "to annoy" section. In other words, the section as amended reads like this: "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
sigh Changing this definition seems like it would create many (unintended? unforseen?) ripples. So, what it really comes down to is that it's probably gonna take a whole bunch of lawyers and a whole bunch of court cases to determine if you can be criminally prosecuted for blogging anonymously or pseudonymously if you do so "with intent to annoy". Either way, it still seems like it depends way too much on the largess of powerful entities... [Updated to correct spelling of McCullagh's surname as well as tweak the spelling of "C|NET" - dunno if it should be CNET or c|net, but hey... so it goes. Also, a hat tip goes out to MSNBC's "Clicked" for the pointer to McCullagh's followup comments. Lastly, McCullagh also has a more in-depth look at the ramifications of the law here. I promise to not annoy anyone with this in the future... unless the situation warrants it, of course ;-)]

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

[geek] Windows apps on Red Hat Linux?

Here's some interesting (and potentially? hopefully? good) software news: the next release of Fedora (Core 5) will include Mono, an open-source implementation of Microsoft's .NET programming platform. In theory, Mono means that .NET applications that were once limited to Windows platforms should only require minor changes [*] in order to get 'write-once, run anywhere' applications by substituting Windows-specific UI elements with GNOME UI elements. And as of today, there's a flavor of Mono out there for most types of *NIX, including Mac OS X... This is potentially big news for my employer - because we do a fair chunk of business for MSFT, we're MSFT-centric: we use .NET, Visual C++ 6.0, MS SQL Server, SharePoint, and so on. The product I'm working on, however, is going to be pitched to government agencies (foreign and domestic), non-governmental organizations, and international aid agencies. Our guess is that many of these entities would prefer an implementation that can run on open-source platforms, and anything that makes that transition easier is a Good Thing as far as I'm concerned. We'll see. All I know is that I now have Red Hat's news page bookmarked. [*] "minor changes" - a phrase fraught with peril, to be sure; best understood in the context of varying values of 'minor'.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

[random] So... what's 'weird', anyway?

sigh Okay, so I've been tagged with this 'meme', see? (Thanks, Carnacki...) It's the 'name 5 weird things you do/habits you have', and, well - I'm so normal that I can't do it. Okay, now that those of you who know me have stopped laughing, I've gotta rant a little first: what is weird? I mean, really? It's so contextual. To give an example, let's take my wardrobe (or lack thereof). When it's cool enough, I live in a nicely worn, battered, black leather biker jacket. When it's warm enough, I live in a pair of cut-off BDU shorts. I'm prone to wearing all black. T-shirts are a given, regardless of the weather. And my appearance? Long hair, goatee, earrings. When I lived in St. Louis, this was definitely classified as weird. In Seattle, not so much. See? Context. That said, here goes:
  • I cannot abide dog-earing the pages of books. If you're putting a book down, get a damn bookmark.
  • When forced to wear a shirt and tie, my preference is for ties that are older than I am (from the late '50s, early '60s - nice and narrow).
  • I prefer to eat crackers by twos. Not two at a time, just even numbered amounts.
  • I have been known to dream in code. Not like Enigma/Codetalkers cryptography (though that's cool, too...), but in programming code:
        for (int i = 0; i < _workingArray.Length; i++)
        {
            if (((Bar)_workingArray[i]).Foo == true)
            {
                //foo
            }
        }
  • I will procrastinate endlessly rather than do something that I can't make 'just perfect' - cases in point: this post, the ten others sitting as drafts on this blog, and my now-languishing fiction blog.
  • Now that's not too weird, is it?

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Carnacki said...

    Ha! Crackers by 2s. That's funny.

    BTW, I agree with you about weird. Here's a comment I made at groovyageofhorror:

    Ididn't tag any of the horror bloggers because I feared they might accidentally reveal more than they intended.
    Keith at Old Haunts:
    3. I have the weird habit of burying the bodies vertically instead of horizontally.
    Kevin at Dark, But Shining
    4. One of my weird habits is I spend exactly 33 minutes resharpening my machete after every kill. I set the watch right by the work table to get the time right.
    See, I was careful in revealing my "weird habits." Besides, I don't think burning the bodies is a weird habit, but a necessity...oops, I said too much.


    I should have been more careful about my post. Since reading it, my wife is on my case about the amount of coffee I drink.

    Why do you dream in code? Is it work related stress or like people who know a foreign language and sometimes are so immersed they dream in that language?

    1/10/2006 09:39:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    It's more of an immersion thing than anything else.

    1/10/2006 09:58:00 AM  

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    [geek][politics] Just to be annoying...

    I thought I should point you to Sivacracy's Ann Bartow and her piece explaining why the DoJ authorization and VAWA renewal probably doesn't make pseudonymous blogging "with intent to annoy" potentially criminal. We'll see. I think she's probably right, but my opinion is that the rightness of her answer depends entirely too much upon the kindness of strangers - and strangers with Federal prosecutorial and judicial powers, to boot.

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    Monday, January 09, 2006

    [geek] 30-second science blogging - Polaris, the North Star, isn't.

    Isn't a star, that is; it's actually three stars. The images from the Hubble may be found here - the fullscreen one is here. Too bad they've written the Hubble off... It seems to me that it still has a lot of life left in it. And it fills an important role: it keeps people excited about space. We're never getting off this rock in any significant way without some excitement... [found thru /.]

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Carnacki said...

    I thought Mikulski was working up funds to save the Hubble.

    1/09/2006 07:56:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I don't know - on the Hubble's 'Future' page, they don't mention that as a possibility. As of April 29, 2005, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin "has asked engineers... to begin preparations for another servicing mission" - but nothing has been planned, and nothing has been funded.

    1/09/2006 08:32:00 PM  

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    [geek][politics] Intent to... annoy?

    [UPDATE - 10-Jan-2006 7:45AM PST: Ann Bartow over at Sivacracy has a great summary of the changes wrought in this bill, and she doesn't think that it's as bad as it initially seems. Seeing as how her profile on the University of South Carolina Law School's site lists her current courses as including "...Cyberspace Law, and Constitutional Law II — Individual Liberties", I think she's just somewhat more qualified to pass judgement on this than I... Net result? Color me cautiously pessimistic - the law is vague in definitions, but probably doesn't apply to blogging, or even, for that matter, email (which strikes me as an odd oversight if harassing email isn't covered at all).] Via Atrios comes this little gem - it is now illegal to annoy someone over the internet:
    "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
    Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Let's repeat that together, shall we? "intent to annoy" This language, buried in the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (and the overall appropriation for the Justice Department), has now created a new category of Federal crime: that of being annoying while anonymous. Yeah, I'm sure that'll survive Constitutional scrutiny. Interestingly enough, the most recent version of the bill to be found on Thomas.loc.gov is not the version signed into law; it's the version that the House passed back in September. Trying to get the GPO's text of the bill results in this:
    No Such Document
    docid-> publ162.109
    IPaddress-> 162.140.64.21
    dbname-> 109_cong_public_laws
    Here's the thing - if you plod through all of the amendments to the bill (assuming you can do so before your Thomas search times out), you won't find this phrase at all. What they did was to expand the definition of crank telephone calls (a law dating to 1934) to apply to all internet/electronic-based communications. I guess I could be committing a crime by blogging pseudonymously, then... Good thing it's a criminal offense and not a civil offense, eh? (Okay, think about the implications of that statement, then get back to me, okay?)

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    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    [geek] I stand (somewhat) corrected...

    In an earlier post, I made a snotty remark about a current buzzword, AJAX. AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript And XML, and is used to provide a richer user experience for web-based applications. Well, how about a desktop-flavored user interface for web applications? Check out Bindows and be (at least a little) amazed. For good or ill, they've done an excellent job of replicating the look and feel of a Windows-style user interface. A discussion of the desirability of this accomplishment has been left as an exercise for the reader. (It's slow as shit, too (or, as a friend of mine remarked this afternoon when I mentioned this, "Oh, so it's just like Java then, eh?").) [via Chris Sells...]

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    Friday, January 06, 2006

    [geek] Soon, my plans for world domination will be complete!

    The new LEGO Mindstorms kits sound like they'll be really cool!
    The heart of the new system is the NXT brick, an autonomous 32-bit LEGO microprocessor that can be programmed using a PC, or for the first time in the retail offering, a Mac. After building their robots, users create a program within easy-to-use yet feature-rich software, powered by LabVIEW from National Instruments. Downloading programs to an invention is easy. Users with Bluetooth®-enabled computer hardware can transfer their programs to the NXT wirelessly, or anyone can use the included USB 2.0 cable to connect their computer to the NXT for program transfer. The robot then takes on a life of its own, fully autonomous from the computer. The inclusion of Bluetooth technology also extends possibilities for controlling robots remotely, for example, from a mobile phone or PDA.
    And, according to the Wired article linked above, LEGO is keeping with encouraging hacking and reverse-engineering of their systems. Looks like I can finally get that army of killer robot monkeys built!

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    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    [geek] Privacy? You don't need no steenkin' privacy!

    [UPDATE: Stacy Martin, Privacy Officer at Plaxo, was kind enough to stop by and clarify things for me in a comment attached to this post. Short answer: if you "opt-out" of Plaxo, any such Update Requests just go into a black hole. Period. Done. No validation of any kind. I like that; good design on Plaxo's part. I wish it had been conveyed on their site and/or in the initial emails that I got, but still: the fact that the internet can provide this kind of responsiveness on the part of a company is, in my book, a Good Thing. Thanks again, Stacy.] So I got some spam this weekend. There's a shock, right? Well, this bit o' garbage came about through a component of the much-vaunted 'Web 2.0'. WTF is 'Web 2.0'? In short, it's marketing weasel bullshit for networking tools, online services, AJAX applications (another nugget of marketing weasel beauty for rich online applications that I personally can't differentiate from DHTML, but that's another bitchy rant for another time), and 'social' tools like personalized taxonomies (non-heirarchical organizational schemes, like technorati tags), photo- or file-sharing sites like Flickr, blogging, and so on. One of the 'serious' sites of 'Web 2.0' is Plaxo, an online (or toolbar-based) contact manager:
    Plaxo, Inc. keeps people connected by solving the common and frustrating problem of out-of-date contact information. Founded in July 2001, Plaxo provides a free service that securely updates and maintains the information in your address book. Plaxo is the universal digital assistant; available to you wherever and whenever you need it to keep you organized, on top of your life and in touch with those you care about. Since its release in beta in November 2002, Plaxo has become widely popular, adding an average of 20,000 new users every day due to the service’s ease-of-use and simplicity.
    Right... Free (and anonymous) address book management, plus bulk emailing, plus e-card capabilities. Sounds like a spammer's wet dream to me. So this weekend, I got an email from a Plaxo user, an 'Update Request'. It wasn't from anyone I knew; they provided no information about themselves, and the only information that they had about me was my email address. No name, no address, no city, no state, no phone number; just an email address which I have not widely used. Yet here comes this "Please update your contact information" email. Spam? Yup. Someone's harvested my email address from an online forum and is trying to validate it for resale. I emailed 'abuse@plaxo.com' and asked them to cancel the user's account. I got an email back from Plaxo telling me that a.) they have taken steps to prevent future spam from this individual, but b.) I should email this person and ask them why they want my information, or c.) I should use their 'opt-out' tool which will prevent me from getting future requests from any Plaxo user. I replied to Plaxo that as I did not know the individual sending me this spam, I did not want to reply to them as this would confirm my email address. I also asked them how their 'opt-out' tool worked - did it simply 'bounce' an email, or did it actually send an email to the Plaxo user letting them know that 'someuser@some random domain.com' didn't want Plaxo Update Requests? Coz' if it's the second approach, that's just as bad as clicking on the bogus 'opt-out' links most spammers use. Plaxo's response this time?
    Hello <real name>, Thank you for taking time to reply. I have initiated the necessary steps to Opt-out you from "<spammer>'s" mailing list. Henceforth, you will not receive any Plaxo service related mails from him. I hope this helps, please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns! Best regards, Mac privacy@plaxo.com
    sigh Thanks, 'Mac'. No, I won't be getting any more spam from him, but I sure will from whoever he sells that email address to. Hey, Plaxo - how about hopping on the clue train, okay? If someone complains about spam from your users, cancel their friggin' accounts! Don't validate the email addresses for them! So there you have it, folks: Web 2.0 at its finest. Just like Web 1.0, only with a prettier user interface. Enjoy!

    4 Comments:

    Blogger Stacy Martin said...

    I am the Privacy Officer here at Plaxo and Mac is part of my department.

    As I'm sure Mac explained, the Update Request you received was sent to you by a Plaxo member who maintains at least your email address within their own address book. While it is beyond our service to determine how the person may have initially aquired your contact details or why they may wish stay in touch with you, I've typically found there is some reasonable explanation.

    As you may be aware, we can not stop someone from maintaining information in their own address book. But as the service provider, we can stop messages from being sent to you through our service. This is basically what the opt-out mechanism does. It instructs us as the service provider to block any further attempts by a particular Plaxo member (or all Plaxo members, if so desired) to communicate with you through Plaxo. When a member attempts to send messages to an "opt-out" user, Plaxo simply blocks the message to the destination. There is no verification or acknowledgement.

    As with any service provider, we are very concerned about possible abusers. Plaxo members are prohibited from using the service to send spam and commercial advertisements. When you submitted your report to our abuse department, we would have investigated the activity of the Plaxo member to ensure it was in compliance with our privacy practices and terms of service, and taken appropriate action including removing the individual from the Plaxo service.

    I hope this helps. Should you have further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly.

    Thank you,

    Stacy Martin
    Plaxo Privacy Officer
    privacy @t plaxo.com

    1/03/2006 11:04:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Stacy --

    Thank you for explaining how the Update Request works; had this information been included in the 2nd reply (as I asked), I would not have written this post.

    I will update this post to reflect this information; thanks again...

    1/03/2006 11:15:00 AM  
    Anonymous James D. Macdonald said...

    This is a tiny bit off-topic here, but you asked a question over at Making Light and I don't know how else to answer you.

    The answer to your question is:

    Comcast.net, Arlington, Virginia.

    1/03/2006 11:19:00 AM  
    Blogger Carnacki said...

    That's cool you got a response.

    BTW, off topic, but tag, you're it.

    1/05/2006 06:09:00 PM  

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    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    [random][geek] Astronaut Jesus!

    And in a limited edition of 200, too... Man, this site has some waaaay strange stuff. (found via Sivacracy (congrats on your new arrival, Siva & Melissa!), though Ann Bartow linked to an entirely different item...)

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    [random] Auld Lang Syne and all that crap...

    Happy New Year, all! (Still getting used to not having neighbors who feel the urge to ring in the new year by emptying 30 rounds from their AK-47 into the air... but it's a good kind of adjustment.)

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