July 31, 2004
A (long) list of Rogue Anti-Spyware Products that are themselves deceptive in some way.
July 30, 2004
David Finkel (cellist of the six-time Grammy-award winning Emerson String Quartet) and Wu Han organized this two-week concert and teaching series (now in its second season). Tonight's program was entirely Italian music, which was delightful, but coming up there is a Schubertiad planned that I'm really looking forward to.
I happened to spend a little time this afternoon transcribing the melody to "Nearer, My God to Thee" for Cole to play on the violin with me as I played it on the piano. So during intermission I looked for it in one of the St Mark's Hymnals. It wasn't in there. Neither was "What a Friend we have in Jesus." Are these hymns considered too Baptist-Reactionary for the Episcopal church or something? They are certainly in the old Presbyterian church hymnal that I asked my mother to send to me several years ago so that I would have something to fiddle around with on the piano (no pun intended). Since I rarely am inside a church, much less a multidominational visitor, I had no idea how the hymns might differ across various Christian churches.
I did find "Amazing Grace" in the Episcopal hymnal.
July 29, 2004
A Scientist Asks
The following are listed as Synonyms:
Is one preferred or more correct?
Now, I don't know anything about proteins, but surely all three must have their merits as fun words to drop occasionally into a conversation.
I wouldn't mind seeing them all the time, all over the placeeven ubiquitinationally.
I did get this piece of marketing in the mail though, which might help settle the question asked:
July 28, 2004
Check-up with Dr Strangelove
* * *
Ranged around the gigantic table in the swank and spacious War Room of the Pentagon are the President of the United States and his cabinet, flanked by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the twenty-odd senior officers and advisors who comprise the National Security Council. It is a 3:00am meeting of the utmost and unexpected urgency; USAF's four-star General Buck Turgidson, chairman of the joint chiefs, is explaining how three dozen of his B-52 bombers (each carrying two nuclear devices of twenty megatons) have mistakenly received the so-called "Go-Code," and are now in fact screaming toward their Russian targets. It seems that the commandant of Strategic Air Command's 843rd Bomb Wing, Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, has resorted to the seldom practiced (and never discussed) Plan-Ran emergency War plan which gives unit commanders authority to issue strike orders in case the higher echelon has been wiped out.
General Turgidson is addressing the assembly, and has just referred to the last telephone conversation with General Ripper, before the latter shut down the 843rd's communications center.
General Buck Turgidson (George C Scott) ...And then, Mister President, the SAC Duty Officer asked General Ripper to confirm the fact that he had issued the Go-Code, and he said
(Clears throat and reads from the communications monitor sheet)
"Yes, gentlemen, they are on their way inand no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country and our way of life I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them...otherwise we will be totally destroyed by Red retaliation. My boys will give you the best kind of start1,400 megatons worth. You sure as hell won't stop them now, let's get goingthere's no other choice. God willing, we shall prevailin peace, and in freedom from fear, and in true health through the purity of natural fluids. God bless you all!" Then he hung up.
President Muffley (Peter Sellers)
Did he say something about "fluids"?
General Buck Turgidson
Yes sir, uh, let's see (scrutinizes paper)...yes, here we are"We shall prevailin peace and in freedom from fear, and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids." (grimly) We are still trying to determine the meaning of that last phrase, sir.
There's nothing to determine, General Turgidson. The man's obviously psychotic!
General Buck Turgidson
Well, Mr. President, I'd like to hold judgment on thing like that until all the facts are in.
(Coldly) General Turgidson, when you instituted the Human Reliability Tests, you assured me that there was no possibility of such a thing ever occurring.
General Buck Turgidson
(With a smile of gentle condescension) Mister President, I'm sure you'll agree that it's hardly fair or reasonable to condemn an entire program for a single slip-up.
I found this essay in the book Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print, by David Wallis.
Yet another good Lee Morgan album, recorded in 1960. Its microscopic liner notes were written by Nat Hentoff, and are printed on the outside of the cardboard case that the CD came in (it's a Japanese import). It looks like a miniaturized LP. Nat's first paragraph:
Expoobident is another contribution to the jazz argot by Babs Gonzales, the wandering, informal historian of the jazz life and one of its more quixotic neologists. As is customary with jazz phrases, "expoobident" is elastic in usage and can refer to many different kinds of situations and to all manner of phenomenamale, female, or inanimate. Its connotation, however, is unfailingly positive. If one were to win the Irish sweepstakes, for example, or fall in love for the "very" last time, one might say, "Daddy, that's expoobident!"
I photographed it on top of a math paper about Vassiliev knot invariants (but probably not the same you'll reach via the Googlelink).
July 26, 2004
Viral Text Craft
The ChoiceMail challenge-response filter has cut the spam email I receive to almost nothing over the last 18 months.
Almost 100,000 spam emails blocked
Last night, I was exploring whether the Mozilla mailreader ("Thunderbird") would be able to extract my "good" email from the clutches of Microsoft Outlook Express, so I could archive it. (I had presumed these messages would prove to be utterly unexportablewhy would Microsoft help you get off one of their products, anyway?but I found to my amazement that Mozilla was able to find and read them easily, converting them to mbox format).
In testing this out, I temporarily turned off the ChoiceMail spam filter. With the long-blocked spam deluge now resumed and crashing down on the Mozilla mail reader, I got a renewed look at the state of the art in crafting text to tempt someone to open a virus.
I thought this was impressive:
We have received reports that your e-mail account was used to send a huge amount of unsolicited commercial e-mail messages during the last week. Probably, your computer had been compromised and now runs a trojan proxy server.
We recommend you to follow our instructions in order to keep your computer safe.
The best.com support team.
Attached was a virus-laden file, best.com.zip. Maybe it installs a trojan proxy server.
Earl Emery's Crossword Dictionary
In his spare timehe worked as weatherman in Valentine, Nebraska for many yearsmy grandfather was an amateur crossword puzzle dictionary compiler. He died of cancer in 1981. I've had his last typewritten manuscript of the dictionary in my office for about 10 years, intending to edit it into some online form; however, each time I've looked at it, I've wondered, well, what to do with it exactly?
Type it in verbatim? This seems to ignore the possibility of making it into an more usefully organized online tool.
Organize it as a set of puzzle clues and answers? The manuscript is not really amenable to that. It's more of a loosely associative scheme for finding answers to puzzle clues, not a tool for looking up clues for given answers (naturally). Since I've had a closet interest in the possibility of automatically creating puzzles (and clues), I've always been tempted to wedge grandpa's efforts somehow into my own schemes, but that's got to be the wrong approach, too.
There's also the problem that whenever I open his manuscript (it's over 500 pages), I end up getting sidetracked into other investigations. For example, the very first entry in the manuscript is for the letter "A". The entry is
"A" Theatre's Mrs. A, Gertie.What does it mean? I recently found the answer via Google and some discreet enquiries to a puzzler's list that Dan Asimov told me about (an Internet search three or four years ago yielded nothing). I sent this email
My grandfather was an amateur crossword puzzle dictionary compiler (a hobby) and I've got his 500+ page crossword dictionary manuscript that I've been meaning to edit. He died in the early 1980s but the dictionary incorporates clues that go back to at least the 1930s. It's a bit of a challenge tracking down clue origins.The book I'm referring to in that email was published in 1955:
The very first entry in the "A" section is
"Theater's Mrs A" [Answer: GERTIE]My question, is this a reference to Gertrude Lawrence and a 1954 book by Richard Aldrich? Google seems to think it would be...
Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs A.
An Intimate Biography of the Great Star By Her Husband Richard Stoddard Aldrich. [source: alibris]
I got useful information from Craig Hamilton and from Wendy Howard-Benham, who wrote
I'd put a lot of money on it - Gertrude Lawrence was definitely well-known by the diminutive Gertie (see "Noel & Gertie" for intersection w/Coward) and was married to Richard Aldrich, as hinted in the bio title. And both those facts were no doubt a lot more topical 50 years ago, 2 years following her death during the run of 'The King and I.'So at least I understand the first entry. This may be too big a job. I thought I would buy a few crossword puzzle dictionaries to see how they are organized. There they are in the picture.
"I am not what you'd call wonderfully talented, but I am light on my feet and I do make the best of things." (That's her, not me!)
None of them knows about GERTIE.
July 24, 2004
Fit for Intelligent Adults
From the course description for a Linguistics course taught by Geoffrey K. Pullum at UC Santa Cruz, "Introduction to Unix", promising
...a Unix-based no-prerequisites computer literacy course that treats the computer like a dumb slave and you like an intelligent human beinginstead of the other way around!
Purpose of the course: Linguistics 80G and Computer Science 80G (same course, two different places in the catalog) is a basic-level introduction to the intelligent use of computers. It is oriented toward enabling you to make a computer do exactly what you wantnot teaching you to only want things done the way the computer does them! The goal is to put you in charge. In order to do this, the course introduces the only operating system that is fit for intelligent adults: Unix.
July 21, 2004
Double CD case
A double CD case I folded from a single sheet of paper using these simple instructions by Jorma Oksanen.
I pulled the second CD up a bit only so it could be clearly seen in the photo. In fact, the two CDs will easily push down snugly into two slots. If you turn the whole thing upside down, neither CD even seems to be close to falling out.
Lunatic Fringe [An anagram poem]
Fain lecturing, ireful canting, facile turning
Ritual fencingcruel fainting.
Cut fingernail cleaning fruit? Cure inflating.
White Dot (an anti-TV group).
An article at the Guardian:
Is television destroying our children's minds?
July 20, 2004
The Context Free Press
This news story at CNN reads like output from my prison break story generator (be patient clicking that link):
ROGERSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- The party's over for four inmates accused of going on a beer run after the jail's doors were accidentally left unlocked.
The men were charged Monday with escape and bringing alcohol into a jail.
The breakout occurred Thursday night after cellblock doors at the Hawkins County Jail were left unlocked and a faulty control panel failed to alert jailers, Sheriff Warren Rimer said.
Two of the inmates walked out through a fire exit, leaving the door propped open with a Bible, and made a hole in the exercise yard fence. They walked to a market, bought some beer and returned to the jail to share it with other prisoners. When the booze ran out, the other two inmates made another beer run to a different store.
Authorities believe the inmates bought more than two cases of beer in all.
"I guess they thought if they came back they wouldn't be charged with escape," Rimer said, "but they were wrong."
The store visits did not raise alarm because the inmates were wearing street clothes borrowed from other prisoners. The crowded jail does not have enough orange jumpsuits to go around.
I'm inspired to build on my earlier efforts and develop a full-blown fictive news story generator. I'll use the same home-brew, probabilistically-firing, US-census-data-aware context-free grammars that I was messing with before. But this time, I'll write them to a file in the Movable Type export format, and then import them to this blog I just created.
I've got a perfect name for this news service:
To get things started I seeded the blog with two prison break stories generated by my old engine.
July 19, 2004
Scales Mound, IL
A friend writes
Dear Thane & Family
Well hope this finds you in good health. Is Palo Alto north or south CA?
I do not miss living in [the] LA area. The traffic, real crime, & lack of seasons wore on a person.
I ended up getting nine years. I will have to do seven of them the way the law is now. This was from a case where they had no drugs, no controlled buys, but four people already convicted of conspiracy & doing time in federal prisons testified. They took my house because witnesses said they saw drugs stored there. I got lucky that I qualified for a safety valve. Otherwise I would have gotten 15 years or more. There is a lot of legislation in the works. I can only hope something changes so I can be out by my 30th class reunion.
I am in Horticulture. I work outside 4-7 hours a day and take a college class on turf management. I can get an associates degree in horticulture & an apprenticeship while I am here (oh boy). None of the time I was on pretrial release is counted against my time even though I was under community confinement and completed a 30 day inpatient drug program.
It is safe where I'm at. It's an old college campus (oldest in South Dakota). [It was] converted to a federal camp in the 1990s. So that part is good. I can go anywhere on [the] grounds from 7am to 9pm, about 28 acres total. We have a large gym & softball field so I am lifting a lot of weights, playing raquetball, basketball & softball. So healthwise this is not a bad thing for me.
I could have gotten out in 18 months to 48 months if I told on people, but where I am at spiritually and my beliefs in general I could not do that to another person [...]
There is an organization called FAMM (Families Against Minimum Mandatory) that is trying to get things changed. All I can do is encourage people to get involved & help get laws changed.
What kind of work are you doing? Software? Are you still running? Tennis? Basketball?
There are good church things here, so I am trying to change from inside on how I react to people & the law, etc [...]
I'll write again near the holidays. Not much changes in here. Kind of the same day after day. Foodcafeteria. Out of 780 of us 500 are in here for drugs & 400 of those not bad people & weren't committing other crimes. I am also fortunate because this is probably the only prison in the US where whites are a majority25% black, 10%-20% hispanic. In Illinois, that prison was 75% black, 15% hispanic, and 10% white. That place sucked compared to here. I am enclosing some photos of the area. Not what you would think of a prison, more like a human-warehouse-park.
From the archives (Oct 2003): another letter
July 18, 2004
The Spider and the Bee
Ann (across the street) noticed that a spider had built a web near some of her front yard patio furniture.
She pointed it out to Owen and me. I showed Owen how the spider jumped as I touched the web briefly with a stick. There weren't too many bugs around, except for the occasional bee visiting nearby agapanthus flowers.
A few hours later, the spider had captured a bee in its web. Owen told me about it and I took a camera along. By the time I got there, the spider had already killed the bee and surrounded it with silk.
Then the whole web came down and the spider and sarcophagized bee fell to the ground. The spider set out trying to drag the bee carcass away. In the first photo, the bee is attaching some kind of thick silk cord to the bee for leverage.
A few minutes later, the spider had lifted the bee to a perpendicular position.
I revisited a few hours later and found no bee and no spider.
From the archives: The Cat Spider
Fourteen highly relevant questions, according to the Google "I'm feeling lucky" button:
From the archives: Googlelinking: Let's Feel Lucky.
July 16, 2004
July 14, 2004
Nobel IOU 
From Schroedinger, life and thought, by Walter More (Cambridge Univ Press, 1989):
Congratulations poured in from all over the world. Lindemann wrote immediately to Rintoul at I.C.I. "I was amazed to see this a.m. that Schroedinger has been awarded the Nobel Prize...He should be given the maximum salary possible...1000 pounds." Owen Richardson, who had received the prize five years previously, wrote from King's College, London, with practical advice about the procedures in Stockholm. He warned Erwin that they would put him up in an expensive suite at the most expensive hotel, the bill for which would be presented just as he was leaving. He would then have a cheque for the prize, but it would be difficult to cash. Richardson kindly offered to lend him some money for the trip if he was short of funds.
Gloria's phrase describing my habit of starting household chores but not finishing them.
July 13, 2004
Revolutionary Flag 
There's nothing like a good motto to sharpen up the meaning of a flag.
Only license plates seem to have good mottos nowadays (advertising slogans are mostly meaningless).
A recent NYT crossword puzzle clue: "The Crossroads of America" (7 lettersINDIANA).
In grade school, I had to make a copy of the Nebraska state flag. I remember thinking, what is all this stuff, what is it supposed to mean? It would have helped if they had put a more helpful motto around the border: HUSKER FOOTBALL KICKS ASS.
This has got to be the coolest US postage stamp of all time:
I just bought plenty of them online at usps.gov, guaranteeing myself a high-quality postage experience for many months to come.
This is from Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science, by S Chandrasekhar:
If the problems enunciated in the Principia were the results of a lifetime of thought and work, Newton's position in science would still be unique. But that all these problems should have been enunciated, solved, and arranged in logical sequence in seventeen months is beyond human comprehension. It can be accepted only because it is a fact: it just happens to be so!
It is only when we observe the scale of Newton's acheivement that comparisons, which have sometimes been made with other men of science, appear altogether inappropriate both with respect to Newton and with respect to the others. In fact, only in juxtaposition with Shakespeare and Beethoven is the consideration of Newton appropriate.
Now, a few remarks concerning the style of the Principia. Quite unlike his early communications on his optical discoveries, the Principia is written in a style of glacial remoteness which makes no concessions to his readers. As Whewell aply wrote:...As we read the Principia, we feel as when we are in an ancient armoury where the weapons are of gigantic size; and as we look at them, we marvel what manner of men they were who could use weapons what we can scarcely lift as a burden...
Output from my place name generator:
July 12, 2004
July 10, 2004
Triangle or Circle?
Returning from Stanford Sierra Camp, we stopped in Davis, California for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I asked our waitress where the restrooms were. She pointed to a door that led to this hallway:
Although the signs had been pulled off both doors, you could tell that one had been a triangular sign, and the other, a circle.
I waited for a few seconds to see if someone might come out of either door, but the circumstances demanded that an immediate decision be made. Owen and I had to make our best guess.
We hesitantly settled on the triangle and peeked in. I saw a urinal and knew we were in the right place.
July 08, 2004
From The Ciano Diaries
November 8, 1939
The Duce is very much impressed by what General Liotta told him about the German tendency toward alcoholism. The General went so far as to say that the "German peril can be held back only by means of the alcoholization of Germany," and that "the world of tomorrow will belong to the people who drink water." However, I have wondered whether it is worth while taking seriously that Sicilian clodhopper [Liotta], who, because he offered some bottles of bad wine to the Germans, believes that he has won their confidence.
July 07, 2004
Geometry at the NYT
The New York Times ran this AP story this morning:
FLORIDA: MATH QUESTION STUMPS JEB BUSH At a speech to high school students in Orlando, Gov. Jeb Bush was stumped on a math question from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which he has championed. A student, Luana Marques, 18, posed the question: "What are the angles on a three-four-five-triangle?" The governor gave a steely grin. "The angles would be - if I was going to guess," he said. "Three-four-five, Three-four-five. I don't know, 125, 90 and whatever remains on 180?" Ms. Marques had the correct answer: 30, 60 and 90. "The fact that a 51-year-old man can't answer a question is really not relevant," Mr. Bush, a Republican, said. "You're still going to have to take the FCAT and you're still going to have to pass it in order to get a high school degree."
In fact, a 3-4-5 triangle is not a 30-60-90 triangle. What's worse, Jeb Bush's approach to the problem, incorporating both an attempt at estimation and the application of a general mathematical principle (that the sum of the interior angles is 180 degrees) actually casts him in a pretty good light, mathematically speaking.
Note added 13 July 2004. The NYT published this correction on 9 July 2004:
A report in the National Briefing column on Wednesday about a math question from Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test that stumped Gov. Jeb Bush, when posed to him by a student, misstated the answer. The angles on a 3-4-5 triangle are 90 degrees, 53.1 degrees and 36.9 degrees — not, as the student said, 30, 60 and 90.
July 01, 2004
"I will build a pyramid"
This makes my dream of winning the $25 Billion National Debt Lottery look more realistic than ever. Two more orders of magnitude, and I'll start buying tickets.
Birmingham Town Hall
A detail (#2 #3 #4 #5 #6) from a print produced about 1830. Alan Girling gave it to us as a wedding present in 1990, and it has been hanging in our bathroom ever since. I took the photos with a lensbabies gadget, which tends to make things look out of focus near the edges of a photo.
[The whole picture].
Cassini Mission Error
Browsing the images the Cassini spacecraft has been sending back from
Saturn, I discovered a serious mission oversight:
Yessomeone has tipped Saturn sideways.
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