Friday, April 29, 2005

Not feeling enough rage?

If you're having too many of those manic weeks when things just seem to be fine, and your anger muscle is way under-exercised, have I got a website for you. Overlawyered describes incredibly wrong-headed lawsuits, rulings and related stupidities. There's a lot of detail there, and as you read, if you agree, you just get angrier and angrier. Or if you disagree - well, you'll get really furious. The perfect antidote for a beautiful Spring day.

The Nigerian Letter Scammers ought to be more organized:

The Nigerian Letter Scammers ought to be more organized:
I have some advice for the people who write those scam letters from Nigeria. They ought to get together and set up a significant pool of money, say, a half million dollars. Then they should operate a “scam” in which someone in the USA actually GETS the half million by following the usual instructions. After word of this gets out, they’ll have ten times as many suckers falling for their scam. This is MY idea, and I’m willing to be the sucker who gets the actual half million.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Another Problem with “Privatizing” Social Security:

Al Hedstrom, the Kitsap Pundit, has pointed out that any Soc Sec plan like our president’s will require immense new development in government IT. He explains that much more information will be needed about the current status of each person with an account, and that money will have to be correctly credited to each account within days (he says that currently Soc Sec $$ can find their way into the system 18 months late).

A new large computer system must be written to handle your account transactions, and to know, at any moment, how much money of each type YOUR account would have for you, or the account managers, to play with. The bottom line: We couldn’t start a new Soc Sec plan until all this new software was written and well-tested. Its development has to be paid for, and here’s a real likely scenario:

  • Year 2008: The program is defined so well that the system can be developed in ten years at a cost of $60,000,000...
  • Year 2015: But we've changed our minds about what we want, the software has to be redesigned. Start over…

Like calendar reform, some aspects of society can no longer be changed because of the inertia of computer change required to support them. Changing Soc Sec might first require a brilliant intermediate step that gradually adds capabilities to allow many future changes to be made in a timely fashion. Here’s how that will work:

  • Year 2007: The infra-structure is defined so well that the system can be subtly upgraded in ten years at a cost of $30,000,000..
  • Year 2011: Now that we know what we want, it turns out that the intermediate upgrades – Murphy’s Law strikes! – do not support the new plan. Start over…

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It’s … un … wearable …… ohno

When I’m getting ready to go to a fancy event, it gives me pleasure to think of the suit, just recently pressed at the cleaners and waiting for me to wear. Then I try to put it on and … ohno … the cleaners have squashed the fly zipper, which is now stuck at half mast.
I’ve taken a vow to check the zippers immediately and not wait until I want to wear the garment. This is a problem for which there might be no last minute fix.

Monday, April 25, 2005

When you see a movie on TV, are the ads the "dirty parts"?

Orrin Hatch's Spring gift to the movie corporations, bill S. 167, called the "Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005", includes some draconian penalties for illegal movie copying. But it also makes it legal to sell DVD players that know how to skip over the naked bodies and sexual intercourse parts of movies. (Or possibly, as Ed Felton has pointed out, to skip over all the other parts instead.)
In fact the wording that allows limited excerpting of movies is very general. Please don't confuse me with a lawyer, but I think congress just made it legal for TiVo and other PVRs to automatically skip over the advertisements while playing back a movie shown on television. If you're curious, take a look at section 202 of the bill, which says in part that it allows: "the making imperceptible ... of limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture, during a performance in or transmitted to that household for private home viewing, ... or the creation or provision of a computer program or other technology that enables such making imperceptible ..."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Already You!

Voila! Another lovely misspelling that's common on the web: Deja vous. Here are a few examples:

OKAY, now let's try to use it in a paragraph (suggestions please):

I had never seen you before, but I seemed to know exactly what you had done, and what you were thinking. It was a case of Deja Vous.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Precision Blogger's law of remarkably unforeseen consequences:

Ed Felton argues persuasvively that the new Family Movie Act (FMA), despite its draconian penalties, has some really excellent anti-censorship qualities. You can read his discussion here.

Unfortunately, I am sure this law is going to conform to a general rule that I shall formulate here:

Precision Blogger's law of remarkably unforeseen consequences:

Any new law involving free speech, censorship, copyright, or computer usage is going to have such remarkable unforeseen consequences that it would be better right now to pass NO SUCH laws.

Just wait a few months to see the unforeseen consequences of the FMA, and be amazed.
- precision blogger

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Don't you just hate it when someone invites you to click on a link without giving you the slightest inkling what you're going to see? I would never do that. For example, take a look at this!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Certificate of Authenticity:

While flying, we browse the Sky-Mall magazine. I’ve noticed that one can buy a gold ring, the “One ring to rule them all” with the appropriate Tolkien inscription. What fascinates me is that the thousands (or perhaps, dozens?) of people who buy this ring get a “certificate of authenticity.” I imagine the certificate says something like this:

Congratulations! You have purchased the one and only authentic ring to rule them all. Everyone else (including the manufacturer) has a fake.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Two stories that make no sense.

Today’s entry is rather long, but having remembered these two stories I just have to tell them. I promise you that, taken together, they make no sense in an entirely different way.

Please imagine that we are back in the 1950’s in some provincial Italian city. The city fathers have decided on an immense rebuilding program to spruce up the government center, and they receive several bids. One bid - the highest - fascinates them. More than a million bricks will be needed for the entire project. This oldtime contractor undertakes to estimate exactly how many bricks will be needed. If he is wrong: the city need pay him nothing.
Well, they accept his bid. An enormous pile of bricks is delivered to the site. As work progresses, people gather to watch the pile diminish. On the last day of construction there is great excitement. The old contractor, his head covered by a broad hat, stands apart observing. A mason climbs up to cement a final brick in place.

One brick remains of the pile. One excess brick. The contractor walks slowly forward, picks up the brick, examines it, and sadly tosses it over his left shoulder.

A train departs. It’s a hot day and things are not going well in the stuffy third class seating. A woman holds a crying babe. A man directly across from her smokes a cigar, blowing the smoke into the child’s and the mother’s face.
After awhile someone opens a window but this has little effect. The smoke swirls at the child. The mother begs the man to put out his cigar. He refuses.

Suddenly the woman snatches the cigar and tosses it out the window. For a moment, all is immobile; but then the man grabs the baby and throws IT out the window.
Pandemonium ensues. The emergency brake is pulled, but the train comes only slowly to a halt. A search party is organized to see what’s become of the baby. They walk back down the track, peering into the distance, confused by the heat-distorted air rising off the tracks.

In the distance, they see a very large dog.
The dog is coming towards them.
It has something in its mouth.
In terror, they strain to see what’s in the dog’s mouth. They surge forward. The dog continues toward them. And then: they can see what’s in the dog’s mouth:

It’s the brick.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A small dose of Blind Faith

You can read at Annanova that Gerrard Gosens, a blind person living in Brisbane, recently began his ascent of Mount Everest. When asked why he wanted to climb it, I wonder if he said, "Because it's probably there."

Friday, April 15, 2005


I had an experience today that says something about the mindset of retailers. Or maybe it says something about the mindset of the people who program cash registers. And in any case I’m not sure what it says…

I visited a local supermarket to pick up few ingredients for a meal. Deciding I must have a tomatillo, I grabbed a nice one, noting that there was no price posted for them.

The cashier looked dubiously at and said, “This is a tomatillo, right? Did you notice what it costs?”

I explained that no price was posted, as far as I could see. She sighed, set it aside, and checked out my other items.

I was in a hurry, so I said, “Why don’t you charge me $2.00 a pound for the tomatillo? I’m sure it actually costs less than that.”

“I’ll trust you,” she said, and charged me – now get this - $1.99/pound for the tomatillo.

$1.99? To what purpose???

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Locking my Car:

I always get a sense of how I feel about the immediate world when I decide whether and how to lock my car. I live in a place where locking is not mandatory, but I also live near places where locking is probably required.
I've noticed that I even make different decisions in the same place, feeling safer - or more anonymous - at some times. For example, if I park in a big, full parking lot, I tend to assume that a thief is unlikely to select my particular car.

On a hot day I may leave a window part way open and lock up. When I do this, I feel the locks reduce temptation in all but the most hardened, rarer thief.
On a very hot day I may leave a window all the way open and lock the car. In this case I hope the lock will give me a nice, false sense of security.

As you probably suspect, nothing has ever been stolen from my car (although an entire rental car was once stolen). If I experience a robbery, I'll probably return to this post and revise everything I've said.
Comments? How do you feel about unlocked cars?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Drip … drip …

Walking home on a cloudy, windless day, I felt the chilling sensation, every few minutes, of sparse cold raindrops on the nape of my neck. Soon I realized what this meant: my posture was lousy! Had I been standing straight, my longish hair would have protected my neck.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I was once somewhat insulted:

I started a new consulting job to complete a program that was “almost finished”, because the original programmer had quit. I was soon able to show that the program was far from finished (I completed it in three months). On my third day of work I found that two parts of the program had been designed in conflict, so that a third part would be impossible to complete. I thought it best to ask the original programmer how to resolve this issue. I got his phone number, called and described the issue to him.
“That’s amazing,” he said, “I would have expected you to work on my program for a month before you understood that problem.”
You might argue that he actually paid me a compliment. Didn’t feel like it though.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Not not:

As you don’t not know, if you use double negatives in English, you’re not unlikely as not to be clear.
It’s tricky to count negs on the fly when an even number of negatives means a positive. But in many other languages (such as Spanish and French), multiple negatives simply accentuate the “not.” In English, using multiple nots for emphasis rather than negation seems to be ‘against the rule”, but Mencken writes here about such usage, longstanding, in English. The WikiPedia entry on double negatives includes a good joke about double positives.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

About three inches by five inches:

Out walking yesterday, I saw a young woman staring intently at a whitish object held in her palm. It looked too thin to be a cell phone, and I'm not aware of any white-colored PDAs so I was curious what gadget it was.
As I approached, she took the top index card off the short stack in her hand, slid it to the bottom of the pile, and stared intently at the next card.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Origin of Dragons:

Maybe you've already thought about this, but it only struck me today. There was something weird on our dining room rug, a monster cricket I thought. I approached it with extreme caution, and picked up what turned out to be a crumpled leaf. Then I asked myself: How much do the legends of dragons, mermaids, griffins and other fanciful creatures owe to the vision of near-sighted people before the invention of glasses?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

“The camera is the film”, says Dvorak; but what of modularization?

John Dvorak has a thoughtful column titled "The camera is the film." He explains that with analog cameras, you choose the film you want to get a certain look. Digital cameras, each with their unique combination of lens, light-capturing mechanism and firmware, have a certain look. Dvorak has used many digital cameras and discusses a few that he returns to for their characteristic style.

Since we are in a world of hybrid hardware/software products here, I’d like to take the obvious next step and ask about modularization. Will the day come when I assemble my own digital camera by buying a lens here, a CCD there, download and customize some open-source camera firmware, and make a camera that has a unique look?
Why not?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Willie Randolph, Mgr:

I promise not to blog much about baseball.
The Mets decided that Willie Randolph will be a great manager. So great in fact that he needs no seasoning in the minor leagues, but will learn best beneath the cruel magnifying glass of NYC sports. I hope they are right, for his debut was not impressive.
On opening day he appeared to manage like the American Leaguer he mostly was. Considering that the Mets got most of their runs via the long ball, he may even have been correct. I'm more concerned by a failure if imagination late in the game.
The Mets pitched Dae-Sung Koo in the eighth, one of their many “question mark” relievers. He was sensational, striking out the last two batters on called third strike pitches that looked like balls and moved so much that catcher Piazza dropped them both. Koo may have been having a career moment! I really expected him to start the ninth. With a two-run lead, there was room to bring in the Mets' genuine closer if Koo got into trouble. But no, the unimaginative move – bring in the closer to start the ninth.
It's not that important to me that the Mets' closer lost the game. I'm concerned about the lost opportunity to nurture a new player who might grow into something special.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Where’s Africa?

I was happily browsing a small second-hand book shop. It was a delicious musty warren of nooks with tall stuffed bookshelves sorted by subject.
A young man hurried in, turned to the clerk and asked excitedly, “Where’s Africa?”
We customers, perhaps six of us, turned to look. The clerk laughed nervously, then pointed across the store to a shelf near me. “Over there,” he said, “below the books on Asia.”
“No, “said the young man. “I mean the continent!”
“Uh, I think it’s south of the Mediterranean,” offered the clerk.
“Thanks!” said the young man, and he hurried away.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Sneaky Email Trick:

First let me say that I discovered this by accident, and I would never do it on purpose. Well. Maybe I discovered it by a Freudian Slip, so perhaps I already did it on purpose.
Suppose you need to send an email to A, copying B, C and D about something you’d rather hadn’t happened. You particularly wish you didn’t have to bring it to C’s attention, but for this sort of thing you’re expected to email C. So, you misspell C’s email address just a little tiny bit, and send the email. Unless A, B and D look closely, they’ll assume you did the right thing. And maybe C will never hear about it.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Slate of Damocles:

We live in a house with a slate roof. You always see flakes of slate around such houses, and it's clear that slates disappear and have to be replaced. But you never hear about people being hit by falling slates. One theory is that they only come off a bit at a time, the bits floating harmlessly to the ground. If you like that theory, you won't like this picture of an entire slate embedded several inches in our yard:
Attack Slate!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Reeal Fast forward:

If you have TiVo or some other PVR, you enjoy pre-recording programs and then skipping past the commercials as you watch. But unfortunately, on the rare occasions when we want to watch in realtime - a March Madness game maybe, or our favorite first run TV show - we can't fast-forward over those commercials.
Until now.
Tivo Release 3 PVRs, utilizing Akamai's newly anounced Accelerated TV Frame Delivery (ATVFD), will let you skip over commericals in real-time to view the rest of the program that the network planned to show you in the near future!
Unfortunately, this feature will only be available on cooperating networks, not including Bloomberg.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A word to the wise (fool);

If you wake up on April First and decide you want to play a great April Fool's joke, you're probably too late. Next year I hope to plan ahead.
There are some good April Fools floating around on the web this year, including BoringBoring, Google's new soft drink, and Malwarlaria, a PC Virus that is spreading to humans. (Don't touch that keyboard!)