July 2000

2 Jul 2000[link to here]

I've been away for a few days. Some observations:

3 Jul 2000[link to here]

Stupid things in the news:

Colorado Asks: Is 'In God We Trust' a Religious Statement?

Is "duh" an exclamation?

``"Every time 'God' is involved in something, it's always tied to religion," said Clair Orr of Kersey, Colo., the education board's chairman and the sponsor of the measure.''
New Encryption System Would Protect Digital Music

Only it wouldn't, because you can't protect data once you give someone access to it. Their system, like every other content-locking scheme, would have to trust the media player hardware and software. Any software running on general purpose computers can be hacked, so if you let people play music on their computers, a compromised version of the software will get created and released, and then the whole system is worthless.

The only way this sort of thing can be useful is in combination with proprietary hardware players. Someone could hack their own hardware, but they couldn't share hacked hardware, only instructions on how to do it. Distributing or possessing a tool specifically designed to copy encrypted content would be illegal in the US. That applies to software too, but it's hard to stamp out illegal software once it's out there.

4 Jul 2000[link to here]

Tonight I'll go to a party that's primarily someone's birthday party, but is also an American Independence celebration, just because of the date coincidence. I'll probably be the only American at the party. It's fun being special, but it's also distracting.

The NYT has been running an excellent series on racism in America. My own situation as an American in the UK isn't nearly as serious or problematic as being in an obvious racial minority in the US, but one of my main problems here was described well in the most recent article.

"Many times I would say something at Southern and they would repeat it and I wouldn't get my point across," he said. "It would get lost in the mocking of how I said it instead of what I said. I might walk into a room and I'd say, 'Hey, how y'all doin'?' " Instead of answering, someone would do an imitation of a white person talking, enunciating slowly. "They'd say 'Hi, guy, how are you doing?' So I just learned to say, 'Hey.' " He believed the classmates were only needling him, but being constantly reminded was exhausting.

I'm lucky that this is one of my worst problems, as it's a relatively minor one compared to some people's real troubles, but it's still exhausting. Even though most of the comments I get are good natured ribbing, it's a constant frustration to be constantly translating to the local vocabulary before I speak, or occasionally having conversations get derailed when I relax and just talk.

There have been plenty of times I've had to interrupt people to find out what some word means. This usually turns into a round of astonishment all around, and it's often fun, but it also takes its toll. It probably doesn't help that I'm extremely conscious of my phrasing to begin with.

5 Jul 2000[link to here]

I'm asked to sign the following statement in order to graduate:

I, the undersigned, upon whom the degree of Bachelor or Master or Doctor is now to be conferred, promise that I will to my latest breath abide in all due loyalty to the University of Edinburgh.

Taking an oath of loyalty is a serious thing and I'm not prepared to swear loyalty to this particular institution (or any other, for that matter). I wonder how strongly they'll try to force the issue. The oath was not included in the advertised conditions of graduation, so I can argue that they're contractually obligated to provide a degree if I earn one within the agreed upon framework.

It's also a rather silly oath, since the amount of loyalty they're due is open to debate. By my own reckoning, they're due none at all, and the oath is an empty one. Given that, plus the admittedly frivolous notion that my latest breath would be the one just before I signed, and the fact that the promise is unlikely ever to matter, many people would just tell me to sign it and forget about it. It'd rankle though, and life is too precious to permit undue rankling.

7 Jul 2000[link to here]

I didn't sign, they didn't notice. As usual, I'd expended lots of energy expecting and preparing for a big argument, only to find that no one cared. You'd think I'd have learned by now, but I'm sure I'll do it again.

8 Jul 2000[link to here]

I've been meaning to write up a long rant about State Street Direct, but I haven't had time so I thought I'd just mention here that they suck. Don't ever deal with them. They toppled Sony and are now the champions of Awful Customer Service. It took two months of phones calls, email, and multiple exchanges (guess who paid for return shipping) to get the things I ordered at the price I was quoted. (It has nothing to do with me being in Scotland, because I had everything shipped to my dad in the US, who dealt with some of the crap on my behalf, for which I'm deeply sorry.)

Crappy customer service is part of the current American culture of apathy. I'm sure there are still people who take pride in their work, but I guess I shouldn't expect to find such people working in low-level retail. Should I move to Japan?

11 Jul 2000[link to here]

Note to self for thesis writing: audience, audience, audience.

Illusions are worth studying because (1) they allow a researcher to expose the inner workings of the visual system and (2) they make really cool demos.

- Edward H. Adelson

13 Jul 2000[link to here]

I put up my first video clip. I'm enjoying my camera. All I need now is a tripod and an assistant and I'll show the world how to do lots of neat tricks. (And I'll record the next one during the day so it's not so dark.)

I just wrote a message and an entire six line paragraph came out with each line exactly the same width. And I only had to rephrase one minor thing on the last line. :) Variable width fonts never give this kind of satisfaction.

14 Jul 2000[link to here]

In just the past six months I've accumulated six different kinds of tape.

16 Jul 2000[link to here]

I went to an air show yesterday. I took pictures (still and moving).

Later I went to my first hip hop concert. The rapping (by Choclair) was rousing enough that I enjoyed some of it, despite not really being into hip hop. The scratching (by DJ JS-One) kicked ass. I'd never seen live scratching before, and now I'm sorry I waited so long. The turntable is an expressive instrument in the hands of a good DJ.

The main attraction was Rahzel. He does beatbox. He's really good. He opened with a scratch duel with JS-One, and despite my vast experience with vocal effects, I wouldn't have believed a person was making those sounds had I not seen it myself. Rahzel (with occasional help from JS-One) kept the enthusiastic crowd going for about an hour. As an encore, he brought everyone back out for some improv, but it was past 2am and I was dead tired, so I headed home.

17 Jul 2000[link to here]

I've been grooving to Salsa Celtica, and today I was delighted to discover at the library a copy of another Celtic crossover album, Roots, Reels + Rhythms: A Scots Fusion Experience. Mmm. Lots of great tastes that go great together. It's too weird to use for my project, but it's good listening.

The library was also kind enough to lend me six CDs of samba, salsa, and son, mostly from Cuba and Brazil. I also borrowed a whole mess of CDs from a friend: Fuaré, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Orff, Mendelssohn, and more of that crowd. I didn't have enough Latin or Classical in my own collection, and I need separate data sets to optimize my neural net architecture and weights, and then another to test on. Rough life, eh? I measured parameters of 364 Celtic songs, and now I must do the library dance.

18 Jul 2000[link to here]

The SJ Mercury News has an article about mylackey.com, a company that rents out servants by the hour. The truth is that most people could afford to occasionally rent a servant if the transaction costs and other overhead were small enough (and if minimum wage laws didn't prevent people from working at fair wages). mylackey.com charges about twice what the lackeys earn, so there's probably room for competition.

An interesting result of the existence this service is that it puts a clear price on chores. Any time I do something that I could pay someone else to do, I'm essentially paying myself to do it. Doing it myself is usually much easier than hiring someone (and avoids brokerage costs), but if mylackey.com makes it convenient enough, I think they're going to get a tremendous amount of business. The big challenge for them will be to provide lackeys who can do good work without close supervision, especially since failures will be remembered and talked about more than successes.

I'm curious about who will hire them and why. Some of their business will come from people who choose to earn more by working more hours at their regular job than by being their own lackey. Some people will pay for extra free time. Some might pay to work more to meet deadlines, impress people, or build a reputation. But more often, I think businesses will hire lackeys for their employees so they can squeeze more work out of them. And I think most of those employees will forget that since they could hire the lackeys themselves, they're essentially working extra hours at lackey rates. (Actually the equivalent wage would be much higher than the cost of a lackey since they'd have to pay lots of taxes on income that they don't have to pay on benefits.)

As alternatives-for-hire become more obvious, people are going to have to make more deliberate valuations of their time. That itself will cost, and will surely annoy many people, but in some respects it will be nice to have the options.

In cases where I have to clean up after someone else's pathetic incompetence, I expend more energy being annoyed than I do on the task itself. Changing my attitude would be handy, but an easier solution would be to swap chores with someone else. Ah, the economics of frustration.

[link to here]

I feel all turvy and topsy when I look at Dinah's newly right-margined site.

I can't decide if it feels like the text is being jammed toward the nonexistent spine of the web book instead of conveniently near my fingertips, or if the text is going to fall off the edge of the page instead of being securely bracketed by the margin and the scrollbar. I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually though.

Part of the problem is that all my desktop controls are on the right edge of the screen. MS Windows folks typically have them on the left, so having web navigation elements on the right would help balance out their world. But my web windows tend to be towards the left, leaving my zillions of iconified netscape windows accessible. Usually that makes text roughly centered and visually balanced, but not this time.

I hadn't realize just how ingrained the standard format had become.

19 Jul 2000[link to here]

I think I'd enjoy being a part of Advogato, but it would take a lot of time to write enough decent article responses to establish a real homestead, and I'm busy actually creating stuff these days.

They're dealing with a boatload of new people right now, due to an article in Salon. Surely someone else has thought of this already, but the correct term for this deluge must be "Salonslaught".

Some people think it would be ok to let their jukebox select random music from the same genre. These people have never gone from an hour of piano sonatas to Carmina Burana. Don't try this at home.

20 Jul 2000[link to here]

I've released the disgusting code for autojot. It's far from ready for a real release, but I won't have time to work on it for another few months and I thought someone might like to play with it.

21 Jul 2000[link to here]

I've been reading Neural Networks for Pattern Recognition, by Chris M. Bishop. It's often cited as the bible of its domain, so I was surprised to discover that it's unusually clear and easy to understand.

23 Jul 2000[link to here]

I rewrote the proxying part of autojot as a FilterProxy module. Now it's more reliable and easier to configure, but it'll be much more trouble for people to install. Ah, well. It's not really ready for other people yet anyway.

24 Jul 2000[link to here]

For some reason I couldn't sleep last night, so I worked on my site tools a bit. Page titles are now part of the database instead of being encoded within the pages, and the parent link (normally computed from the filename) can be overridden by a database entry, so the directory structure no longer dictates site navigation. Yay. These two things pave the way to making a proper table of contents (in various human and/or machine readable forms), all set to be worked on the next time I can't sleep.

These two pages reveal the true secret to being a juggling master with highly entertaining and well crafted animations. Worth a gander (or a goose).

25 Jul 2000[link to here]

I was hanging up laundry today and unwittingly put the right shirt on the right hanger.

26 Jul 2000[link to here]

A Concorde went down in flames. 113 people died. Someone got a picture of it taking off, flames shooting out the back. The NYT described this guy as "a plane watcher". Presumably, that means he often watches planes taking off, and I'd guess he often takes pictures since he happened to be ready for this one. I wonder how he feels about it. The NYT now credits the photo to Reuters, so I guess he sold it to them.

It's a strange hobby, watching planes take off. A plane launching itself into the air is amazing. I'd have thought the novelty would wear off before it could be called a hobby, but it takes different strokes to move the world, as they (used to) say. But how weird must it be to watch something happen over and over almost exactly the same way every time and then to happen to see this massive freak occurrence that results in 113 deaths. It must be strange. I'm sure it was pretty frightening for all the people it crashed near.

It bugs me a little that it's such big news and that people are reportedly so affected by it. I'm not saying it isn't terrible, but other things are terrible too, and don't seem to bother people as much. As death tolls go, this is pretty low. I can't be bothered to track down statistics, but I would guess that it amounts to just a few days of car accidents or congestive heart failures. When an earthquake in Armenia kills 10000 people, lots of folks admit it's a tragedy, but don't seem to be as upset as they are by this.

I'm not surprised it's news. Plane crashes don't happen very often; we're not used to them. And they're big events, unlike a thousand drunk drivers. But I think the reason people care is that they can relate to the victims and the circumstances. These aren't strangely dressed people buried under shoddy buildings that stood on more corruption that concrete. These aren't old people who can't survive a bitter cold snap in Chicago or an oppressive heat wave in Texas. These are middle class Western Europeans taking a vacation who died in a spectacle of flame. This is a tale full of sound and fury, illuminating people's egocentric empathies.

On a related note, the NYT has an article about parasitic wasps who somehow warp the behavior of their host. They don't just get food from it, they get it to build them a home, right before they kill it. Insects are so cool. Anyone know a good book about freakish techniques of insect warfare?

27 Jul 2000[link to here]

Ow. I'm joyful and fearful that I've discovered Gem Drop X. My wrist hasn't ached like this since my tetris days a decade ago. It's similar to Klax, Tetris, and Bust-a-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble). If you like those games, stay away from Gem Drop.

28 Jul 2000[link to here]

The GI Joe folks have a Navajo Code Talker action figure. It talks in English and Navajo. The surviving code talkers each get one free.

29 Jul 2000[link to here]

I was trying to think of a word for what forum moderators do when they approve messages. They don't write or distribute, they just flip a switch and turn on the public flag. So it must be "publication". That seems wrong at first, since I associate publication with dissemination, but maybe that's just due to technical precedent. If approval was the only remaining barrier to dissemination, this must be right. Three cheers for transparent morphology.

[link to here]

A Gnutella search monitor is a stream of other people's search requests and is a bizarre slice of the global consciousness. I want to write a visualization tool to show me what the world is thinking.

[link to here]

I thought of a bunch of CyberWordzTM that aren't (and probably shouldn't be).