log  ->  quadium.net

Thu 2002-11-07 18:30

Hrm, meant to get an entry in by the end of October. Once November rolled around, the incentive to rush was gone. I'm such a procrastinator.

So, M-x all-hail-emacs. The other day I wanted to reconcile all my transactions from the trip Joie and I just made to Westminster, so I went to my bank's Web site and got the statement. Then I pasted it into Emacs, did reverse-region to get it in chronological order, followed by a replace-regexp to convert the dates into ISO 8601 format. Then picture-mode let me check off the transactions I had recorded in MyCheckbook.

I've got a job, finally, doing the night audits at one of the local Leisure Resorts. Not super-great pay, but livable, and I get more starting than I got when I left the Pit of Carkoon (maybe I should mention I quit, and moved to Hayden; I'm staying upstairs in Joie's grandma's house). It's actually the first job since my first that I've purposefully aimed for and gone after until I got it. Everyone's very easygoing, and I'm apparently considered worthy of basic trust once more. I take care of auditing the day's payments, credit card transactions, drawer reports, and putting together the cash deposits for the bank.

Joie bugged me to adopt one of the kittens loitering and malingering around the premises, and I did. I'm actually very glad I did, because she's a lot of fun to have around. Joie's grandma likes to have her in a box during the night, but on the 2 nights I'm off from work each week I let her roam around my room or watch TV with me. Everyone complains that she's "mean", but it's not so much that as that it's apparently so much fun to chomp down on any toes that happen to be in the vicinity.

Anyway, main reason I haven't been updating my log (and emailing people) as prolifically as is my wont is that I've been working on Pinot, my site management software. It's written in Common Lisp (I'm currently using CMUCL, but I intend to make sure that it runs on at least SBCL as well) and communicates with Apache using mod_lisp. My main goals in writing it are code coherency and abstraction, clean HTML, and extreme modularity and extensibility. I've got it almost ready to begin using for quadium.net, which should make it a lot easier to update it regularly.

Sleep time. Far past it, actually, but I'll take what I can get.

Tue 2002-11-12 - 11:00

Recent empirical evidence on various economic models (as I listen to Capitalism Stole My Virginity):

A month or two ago, I was working on a woman's computer for her, basically trying to stop the continuous crashing and memory hogging that exists on every vendor installed OS, especially DOS-based ones (WinME, in this case). I ended up installing some stuff from my CD of nifty Free stuff, including Mozilla and OpenOffice. Intrigued, she asked me if I could create an invoice form in OpenOffice's spreadsheet, based on the one in Works she already had. She ended up saying she liked the new software a lot better, and since I was getting paid by the hour, I was doubly happy.

So much for the claim that Free (and free) software provides no revenue model for the technically inclined, and for those who suggest that any IT consultant must install illegally copied software to make clients happy. Sure, the source of revenue may shift from the initial writing of software to the packaging and customizing thereof, but that doesn't upset me. Versatility never hurt anyone, and anything that requires tech professionals to make their products more useful for the individual end user can only help the industry.

Next story: The other day I was driving to work, and since my car is broken and I'm borrowing Joie's grandma's for the moment, and its stereo doesn't have a line-in or a cassette deck, I've been listening to the radio during the commute. I don't normally listen to the radio because almost all of them seem to be owned by ClearChannel. But I've had a pleasant surprise: one of the local stations is not part of the Evil Empire, and they play decent music in the middle of the night. One of their features is "CD Center Stage", in which they play an entire CD from beginning to end. Because of this feature, I've decided to buy the latest Foo Fighters and 3 Doors Down albums, something I likely wouldn't do without the assurance that I like more than 1 or 2 songs in the album.

This stands in stark contrast to the RIAA's refusal to license more than a few songs from each album, and their refusal to allow contiguous playback of a compilation. In fact, FM radio seems an ideal medium for the preview of audio works, because of its low quality, the static that often appears, and the annoyance of trying to capture from a live broadcast. But they've destroyed radio, just like they're destroying streaming net audio. All that's left is a wasteland of bribery and payola for speeded-up talked-over overplayed garbage. So I, like many others, go to technically better and more reasonably licensed independent music and don't look back.

Now on to culture and brain function.

Nature reports that University of Arizona researchers have come up with a bridge between ASL and English. Their rationale is apparently that ASL has completely different grammar rules than English, and that this makes literacy difficult to achieve. The example the writers give to show the failings of the current kludge, MCE, is that it allows sentences such as Santa Claus is come to town-ing.. This, like other efforts by modern science to label anything slightly out of alignment with the majority as a detriment, or worse, a disorder, upsets me quite a bit.

I think that it's somewhat pathetic that representatives of various disability groups often demand to be treated exactly the same as everyone else, regardless of the feasability of such an effort. Someone with a handicap is, by definition, crippled. Note that I'm not saying they can't accomplish the same goals, just that the steps to doing so will often necessarily be different. The flip side to this is that the human brain is quite intelligent, and will generally reconfigure itself to take maximum advantage of the resources it does have. With the recent evidence showing, among other things, that humans depend on aural memory to remember strings of digits, it seems that the deaf community should focus on their own unique ways of solving problems, rather than trying to shoehorn themselves into processes that they are biologically prevented from performing optimally. I, for one, would be interested in poetry written by deaf people raised with ASL and MCE; it seems the flexibility available to them in placing tense information would lend itself greatly to conveying emotion.

Those who complain about the amount of time the youth of today spend talking to friends on the phone, the computer, et cetera, should pause and reconsider. It seems socializing is good for the brain. Makes me wonder if my generation may actually be better off in terms of mental health, since so many of us seem used to carrying on multiple trains of thought at one time. I personally tend to have Everybuddy, IRC, my mail, and a bunch of Mozilla tabs open at the same time, sometimes while talking on the phone. Of course, we'll pay for this with our sanity outright, but at least our schizophrenia won't be due to senility...

On a final note, I'm very upset that the W3C has deprecated the dir and menu elements. Their excuse is one of the more pathetic things I've seen from them:

Both elements have the same structure as UL, just different rendering. In practice, a user agent will render a DIR or MENU list exactly as a UL list.

We strongly recommend using UL instead of these elements.

The W3C whines about the loss of semantic information from documents, but every indication from them recently seems to show that they want to turn all HTML documents into <div class="this"><span class="that">foo</span></div>. Really, directory and menu listings are some of the most kludged elements on the Web, and the removal of an official way to represent these is just asking for trouble. Of course, I think that the approach of adopting a single canonical list of Correct Elements is incorrect, but maybe I missed the whole point of degrading gracefully.

Enough ranting for today, I think.

Sat 2002-11-16 - 18:04

Why am I still running Mozilla 1.2a on my laptop? ... Okay, installed our local build into /opt/mozilla. (Brendan convinced me of the superiority of /opt over /usr/local for self-contained-packages.) Type-ahead find seems to work a lot more consistently, and I love the text caret (press F7): Ctrl-left and Ctrl-right even work, almost. It also finally uses native Gtk+ widgets. Some of the time. I guess it'll never handle X resources like old-school Netscape, but at least it's conforming to something now.

So I finally added a Port line to my .ssh/config:

Host piro
  Protocol 2
  ForwardX11 no
  Compression yes
  Port 444

I felt kind of dirty, setting up aliases for hosts that don't exist publicly, but anywhere else I'd have to use the FQDN anyway, and now all I have to do is type ssh piro. And screen -dr, of course. Where it really comes in handy is with scp though: scp file piro: replaces scp -P 444 file

I was setting up a page on my development version of Pinot, and in adding a syndication (Barry, be proud. In this case, it's basically an iframe with metadata.) for the local weather, I found some amusement in the HTML source:

<!-- 22 isn't yahoo a great company to work for? -->

The night before last at work I found something strange in one of the reports, so I duly typed up a memo about it and sent it to the AA, CCing my boss. Now, I'm on somewhat of a elegance kick since having re-read The Diamond Age, and since I'm basically a black box to most of the office people, I use the "Classic" style in Word's memo wizard, and make an effort to proofread before I print my memos out.

The strange thing is that when I got a note back from the AA explaining the details (nice change of pace from Death Hole), she included the metacomment that Your memo was very well done + professional.. Is it so abnormal to have proper spelling and layout? Did I somehow go over the top? Does it seem like I crave attention? Or perhaps I was being patronized. I was under the impression that flat-out style critiques from the recipient happened mostly in school. Oh well, never know I guess. Just going to take it at face value for now.

Yes, I like <abbr>. Do you mind?

Tue 2002-11-19 - 14:51

I was going to have a rant about IE's total lack of meaningful standards compliance, and then I came across this report stating that IE can be tricked into running arbitrary commands with arguments. Since the Home Edition of Windows XP is a single-user operating system, this means that any user can format your hard drive, upload sensitive documents, or whatever.

I've also become massively annoyed that IE doesn't do anything remotely useful with the abbr or acronym elements, nor with the title attribute. I've begun using things like <abbr title="..."> extensively (for instance, in the first sentence of today's entry, "IE" is marked as an abbreviation) because once you move past the age-of-the-typewriter standards they brainwashed you with in high school, you realize that we have all these nifty hypertext tools around, complete with standardized methods of conveying semantic information, and we don't use them nearly enough.

I knew going into it that I was going to be out of luck with Netscape 4.x, but imagine my surprise when I looked at my last log entry in IE 5.5 and found absolutely no special formatting of the abbrs, and no handling of the title element. I asked Brendan, and IE 6 is the same way. The only thing it does is italicize the first instance, which I marked with a dfn. So when people rant about how Internet Explorer does a better job of rendering than Mozilla, which elements are they talking about? <b>?

IE, like Netscape 4.x, doesn't handle the q element properly either (it's supposed to put the appropriate quote marks for the language around its contents) so quotes in the middle of the sentence will likely look strange. Look for weird caps in the middle of the sentence or doubled punctuation, I guess. Or get a better browser. Mozilla has gotten quite a bit faster and leaner, so it seems there's no excuse any more. (There's also Phoenix, but I haven't had a chance to test it, so I don't know what state it's in.)

I asked Brendan why he still uses Internet Explorer, and his 1-word answer was speed. I don't see it. Sure, in the painful days of M16, yeah, but now Mozilla blazes through almost anything I can throw at it, while IE 6 still chokes on stupid things. Like I constantly see IE hang while loading a Slashdot story (in light mode!) until all the comments have been loaded. And in 1.2b, Mozilla's location bar autocomplete is faster than I've ever seen. In any browser. I guess first impressions, marketing, and cognitive dissonance are worth a lot. Those, and preloading your browser when the OS boots.

The only issue I have with Mozilla is that I wish it would do something more clever with <blockquote cite="...">. Right now you have to right-click the quote, select Properties, and copy the URL out of the Info field. I also wish — and this is to the W3C — I could use <!ENTITY> and not have to continuously use <abbr title="bar">foo</abbr> over and over. I guess I'm supposed to have XML for my documents, XSLT on the server, and mod_gzip in Apache. I'll just hack something into Pinot for this, thanks.

I must have the most stressful job in the world. Sunday, I spent the whole night sitting on the couch by the fireplace, sipping tea and hacking Lisp.

Found a local root exploit at work the other day. Coworker was befuddled by the funny little prompt and killed everything before I had a chance to take a closer look. I wrote a nice memo for management; now to wait and see if they care.

Wed 2002-11-27 - 08:36

There's tragic irony in the advertisement, er, PSA I saw yesterday for the USA Freedom Corporation. Angie Harmon was trying to get a volunteer position, talking about her (fictional) success as a DA. She finally gives up on that, says, I can spell habeas corpus, and it cuts to her teaching kids how to spell "habeas corpus". Then George W. Bush comes on and gives a little speech about volunteering and freedom.

This is the same President George W. Bush who rounded up thousands of Arabs and Muslims and still detains them secretly in Cuba, not as civilians possessing civil rights under the Constitution (notably including habeas corpus), nor as POWs subject to the Geneva Convention, but as "illegal enemy combatants", apparently subject to no law other than the currently generous whims of the executive branch. Although I wonder if they'll be any less impotent than their predecessors were against Andrew Jackson's racist holocaust, the Supreme Court apparently dislikes this sort of tactic:

The Bush administration has essentially resurrected the Lincoln administration's claim that a military commander, acting under presidential orders, can be the supreme legislator, supreme judge, and supreme executive within his area of responsibility. That assertion was made to defend the Lincoln administration's creation of military tribunals to prosecute suspected Confederate agents and Northern civilians accused of disloyalty.

The Supreme Court struck down that claim in the 1866 case Ex Parte Milligan, ruling that "martial rule can never exist where the Courts are open, and in the proper and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction."

Got my car running again — $280 for a remanufactured alternator, installed, and a new battery (gotta see if I can claim the warranty for the dud) — but there's still something cracked in the engine, so I keep losing coolant, and it burns oil. The guy who replaced my alternator said it would cost ~$700 just to open up the engine, and a rebuilt engine is ~$1500, and then $500 to install it. I'm seeing if I can find a better price, but it's sounding more like I'm going to end up replacing the car. Too bad; it handles really nicely, insurance is dirt cheap, and it's not the target for thieves a newer Civic would be. For now, I picked up oil and a new filter, as well as 2 gallons of coolant.

So the night after I got it back, I was driving to work and I saw a state patrol vehicle ahead of me with its flashers on. There was some blowing snow and I wasn't sure how far off the road it was, so I slowed down a little and moved a little left as I went by to make sure I had room. As I passed, though, the cop pulled out behind me and started following me. The good thing is that I know there aren't any warrants out for me, because he whipped around to chase after somebody going the other directior after a bit. The bad news is that it's apparently suspicious to show caution around a stopped vehicle. I've gotten pulled over recently for going 75 in a 65 zone too — when I was in Joie's truck, which can't go 75mi/h without dropping into 4th — but the cop let [me] go with a written warning when I called him on it. I miss parts of the state where they have better things to do than fill a ticket quota.

There was a $1.50 discrepancy in the cash drawer the other day. I investigated and wrote something up about the likely cause, and while doing so, I realized the leverage I have in my position. With the right opportunity, by casting suspicion just so, I could do serious damage to someone's career. It also struck me that while the evidence seemed vague and nebulous while I was looking into it, everything seemed set in stone once I proofread my 1-page report. I'm confident in my conclusion, and I added the appropriate disclaimers and hints at conjecture, but it's worrisome to imagine the potential consequences had there been a serious amount of cash missing and had I been malicious or sloppy.

I'm hoping to tie this rambling into a coherent conclusion. I've had people tell me that it doesn't matter what data collection is being undertaken by the government; if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. If my slowing down for a stopped vehicle is suspicious enough to warrant following, what happens when they have a list of the books I read, the sites I visit on the Internet, and the people I send mail to (even if I use PGP, you think there aren't honeypot remailers out there?)?

Howard Rheingold pointed out on the radio the other night that once all this data is collected (note that They doesn't have to gather the information, just collect it from private companies), the potential for data mining is enormous. What happens when whatever AI and heuristics they have scanning our lives flags a particular coincidence, and the person writing the report is lazy or is ideologically prejudiced? Remember, once it's typed up in a report with a nice abstract by someone told by the computer that you're "suspicious", things look a lot more airtight than they are.

Do you want the police crashing your door, cursing and beating you, and kicking in your teeth, because of a red-flagged coincidence? Do you want to die in a shootout defending your family based on a misunderstanding, bad spin, or a lie? And don't forget, Bush's Justice Department now wants to be able to force you to incriminate yourself.

Thanks to Natasha, here's a quote:

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.

How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Cæsar.

— Julius Cæsar

And now for something completely different.... I'm extremely upset. 8 hours ago I downloaded Mozilla 1.2b for Win32 for Joie's parents' computer. It looks like they released 1.2 while I was downloading 1.2b. This isn't the first time a fresh download of mine has been obsoleted, but never this quickly.

Sat 2002-11-30 - 13:55

My family came out and stayed at the suites for Thanksgiving. We all went out to Craig and had dinner with Joie's parents. All my fears of awkwardness were allayed, and everybody had a good time. Nobody ate my sweet and sour "meat"-balls, though. Haters.

I downloaded a Web browser. It was a really good browser. Then this DOM bug devoured it. It was kind of... a bummer. (Okay, I'm sorry. I resisted, I really did. But stoned people on TV are just too funny.)

I'm getting really fed up with this whole "anti-drug" ad series (the overt one). The egregious examples I've heard on the radio involve teenagers smoking pot while babysitting and letting something happen to the baby, teenagers smoking pot while driving and running into things, and teenagers smoking pot and getting arrested for smoking pot. These ads neglect to point out that consuming alcohol while drinking or babysitting is also a bad idea, but that Prohibition didn't work. And saying Marijuana can get you busted. Harmless? is one of the more obvious tautologies being pushed around as profound truth. Why are my tax dollars supporting inane FUD?

Interesting things are happening at Princeton. Princeton University is overtly supporting a student who wrote a paper covering flaws in DRM schemes, going so far as to support establish[ing] a committee on threats to academic freedom by legal intimidation.

Coupled with Microsoft Research employees saying (using cool words like "darknet") that technological measures to stop copying are doomed to fail, it seems the academic community is getting tired of treading lightly in presenting research, lest it expose a fatal flaw in some corporate bozo's XOR v2.0 scheme.

Meanwhile, John Nash testified in favor of DuPont, or rather, against Robert Lanzillotti, in DuPont's ongoing trial for bribing lawyers to stop suing them. I'm hoping Nash was motivated by a desire to correct mistaken uses of his theories, rather than any solidarity with DuPont, seeing as how they caused massive birth defects.

I wasn't able to find any transcripts, but I'm guessing the issue is over whether it's strategically sound to engage in such bribery. Very interesting that hardcore game theory is finding a place in the courtroom, but somewhat scary when considering the massive data collection going on. Very Minority Reportish (note that I haven't yet seen the movie) to decide that because it would have been a good idea in the situation to do a thing, you did the thing. Luckily criminal court requires more than a preponderance of the evidence. Unless you're suspected of terrorism.

Other researchers are finding their work put to political use. The French wanted to find out whether recent footage of bin Laden was faked, so they talked to the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence, who said that they really had no way to say yes or no, and by the way, there was a 5% error in the training data. The unbiased foreign press that the anti-establishment loves to quote reported this as 95% proof that the tape was faked. Meanwhile, the USA press that the establishment loves to quote seems to be ignoring the whole concept of bin Laden imposters.

Speaking of anti-establishment, it's nice to know (thanks to greenrd) in these trying times that it's good for police to beat up on people who happen to be caught up in riots, but bad for police to beat up on undercover cops.

I bought a copy of Life today, their "Holy Lands" issue. So much for the idea that us thieves and rabble never pay for content. This thing cost $13, including tax! The trick is that if they want me to pay for analog content, they have to make use of the analog medium. For example, large thick glossy pages with an attractive layout are worth paying for. Meanwhile, my EMusic subscription is back up. Yay for cheap music downloaded while I sleep.

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