log (2000/07/21 to 2000/07/27)

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Thursday, July 27, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

My davidchess.com T-shirt has arrived! See the grainy low-res picture! The quality seems good: it really is a Hanes 100% Cotton Beefy Tee, and the images (some kind of heat transfer, I think) are solidly colored and at least look pretty robust. So I give you all permission to buy some yourself!   *8)

My county has a strange URL, that it advertises on all the buses: WestchesterGov.com. What are they trying to say here? (On the other hand, USGov.com seems somehow wonderfully appropriate; a nice mix of democracy and ads for pornsites.)

Steve points out Nothing (TM) -- What you've been looking for.

The results? Several Aucklanders phoned the billboard company, anxious to learn where they could buy Nothing -- apparently unaware that they already had more than they could ever use.

Aw, heck, let's do Nomic moves! I'm not applying these two, because they don't seem to actually be moves, although I'm rather fond of both:

I suggest the following modification to the mapping: How do you know if the rules were followed in the making of a move? Does it matter? What is the point (or use?) of having rules if the rules don't matter? If some of the rules don't matter? I guess it could still be fun. For some. Bets will still be placed. Money will change hands. Fortunes will be won and lost. Women will weep. Children will go hungry. The earth will still spin, and some of the less stable creatures will fly off on pale tangents, snagging their trousers on ridges of moonscape.


I'm also not applying two moves that tried to change more than one element of the Mapping at once (we'll need to change Rule 14 before we can do that), and one that ended "Sorry. Erase it.".   *8)   I'm not applying a couple of moves that would have given points to entities in various circumstances, because points and (more importantly) entities aren't defined in the rules yet (we had them last game, but that was last game!). I'm not applying a move that would have made the Douglas Adams books holy (although if there's enough demand I might reconsider), or a long move that would have added three paragraphs to Rule 4 and required all moves to have a name attached (I'd be glad to reconsider these ideas if submitted as three separate new rules).

I am applying these Mapping Changes:

I suggest the following modification to the mapping: D(7,8)=1

I suggest the following modification to the mapping: D(4,4)=1

And I'm applying these two Rule Changes:

I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules: Add a rule reading: "The game is complete when a nomic move creates an exact replica of a Space Invaders enemy in the Tableau."

I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules: All odd prime numbered rules will have the phrase "Or so they would have you believe." appended at the end of the rule. All even numbered prime numbered rules shall have the phrase "The monkeys will then dance."

The first will require some further definition before it can be effective; someone have a catalog of pixel-maps for Space Invaders enemies handy? The second requires a little interpretation: I'm going to assume that it's a suggestion of a thing that I should do once, right now, to all the existing rules, rather than a suggestion to create a new Rule with the given text. (The new state of Rule 11 is quite appealing, I think!)

Status is here, as usual. Keep up the good work, and of course don't forget to brush and floss (something) every morning and night!

Wednesday, July 26, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

So here's the Nature feature about faster-than-light something. The "something" is of course the rub; it's not clear what's actually moving faster than light here. One possibility is that the peak of the pulse leaves the far end of the device before it enters the near end in a strong sense (it really is the same pulse). That would be interesting because it would pretty much have to violate causality; if we change the shape of the pulse just before it enters the device, the output (which has already occurred) would have to change.

But the authors deny that their experiment involves any causality violation; I think that means that we just have a device that produces a peaked pulse at the output end very soon after it sees the start of a pulse at the input end; but the interval between the input and the output is big enough not to require anything superluminal. (Thanks to Steve for the succinct description.) So the only thing that's moving faster than light here is the point that we decide to call "the peak", which is about as interesting as the fact that my attention can travel faster than light ("I'm looking at my thumb, now I'm looking at Polaris; amazing!"). In that case the only question that remains is why Nature is making a big deal about it.

By now I imagine you've all seen this trailer for Star Wars Episode II? It's very well done; how many years until we all have video editors like that on our desktops? Or in our shirt pockets...

some fish

My next-door neighbor has one of these. Yeah, it's really pretty funny, but I'm not sure that it's a Good Sign that it's currently number three on the Amazon "best selling grownup toys" list. Some of the Amazon reviews are worth a read.

Now I realize that those paranoid delusions fall much shorter than the wicked, awful, truth. People are souless, mindless consumers, total slaves to the whims of marketing agencies and corporations, whose plans for the future would make the phrase "planned obsolescence" look like a joke in comparison. Yes, it is that serious. If you have purchased this product or know someone who has, please, please, please destroy it. I don't care if his goofy songs and funny jokes make the whole family laugh. YOU LIFE IS AT STAKE. THE FISH IS EVIL.

So to what extent is complaining that Weblogs link to each other similar to complaining that newsgroup postings reply to each other?

Davis Foulger (wonder what he's doing these days?) worked for me for awhile (in the highly educational but hellish year when I had people working for me), and he did his PhD Thesis on computer-mediated communication. It's mostly about the internal computer conferencing system that we were running at the time, but Chapter Eight presents an interesting typology of communication media in general. I wonder where weblogs would have fit into that typology?

A single weblog is of course one-to-many: I write and you read. But weblogs in general are many-to-many: I write, geegaw writes, Alamut writes, Ian writes, Judith writes, Catherine writes, hopefully you write, everyone writes. And we all read. So many-to-many. And it's quick, and it's haphazardly archived, and in all sorts of ways it's just like Usenet.

On the other hand, of course, it's entirely unlike Usenet. The reason I find this interesting is that the reasons for the difference are mostly cultural rather than technical.

No one expects a single weblog to be about a single topic (with a few exceptions). On Usenet you can filter by author if you want to; on Weblogs, you'd have to try really really hard to do anything else. On Usenet most posts are replies to previous posts; on Weblogs it's reasonably common to make a passing reference to a posting on another weblog, or to pass along a link, but multi-posting threads are essentially unheard of. The average quality of writing and thought on Weblogs (the ones I read, anyway) are far above the average quality of writing and thought on Usenet (the groups I read, anyway).

So we have a spontaneous many-to-many communication medium that has (so far?) avoided the overload and flamage and spam that tend to grunge up Usenet. I'm not sure if I'm really headed for any profound point here except to say "congratulations to us".   *8)   Consider these half-baked observations that might eventually gel into something more (if not in my mind, maybe in someone else's).

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our todays and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

-- The Builders

Tuesday, July 25, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

I'd like to emphasize to the one or two people who've actually bought some davidchess.com merchandise that I currently have no idea whether it's worth the price, never having seen any of it myself. (I've ordered the T-shirt, but it just shipped yesterday, so I'm still waiting breathlessly.) Don't let that stop you, though, if you feel the urge!   *8)

So I finished Bruce Sterling's "Distraction". It wasn't very good, really. Posted to Amazon:

Not up to Sterling's best (two stars)

Sterling is very good at coming up with plausible (but crazy) high-tech (but chaotic) and above all *interesting* future worlds. In some previous books, he's done a good job of showing us those worlds through the eyes of someone not directly in the center of the action, someone who is (like us) at least partly tangential. (Contrast this with Vernor Vinge, say, whose hero often *is* the center of the action [overgeneralization mode off].)

In "Distraction", Sterling carries this a step too far. While the future world is interesting and full of wild and fascinating characters and phenomena, virtually all the cool stuff happens far off-camera, and we're sentenced to following around a fast-talking but basically rather clueless and shallow political operative, Oscar Valparaiso, as he wanders in and out of various artificial situations for no particular reason.

The frustrations caused by this are numerous. One glaring example: Oscar's main love interest is Greta, a top cognition scientist working in (and sometimes running) a cool government research center inside a big glass dome. At one point in the book, we discover that a neat strange cool cognitive technology has been developed. Sounds like it should all fit together? No, as it turns out the technology was developed sometime before the book started, in some other state, by scientists who used to work at Greta's lab but quit.

The only thing the tech has to do with Oscar and Greta is that it's used on them, as passive victims, near the end of the book, when Sterling seems to be grasping for enough new plot to fill out the page count. Tsk! Greta's character, and the title of the book, suggest that Sterling may have started out with some tighter idea about the technology and function of human attention and distraction; but if so the idea got abandoned somewhere along the way.

I'd love to read a book set in this world, from the viewpoint of one of the proles who travel the country in gangs living off harvested roadside weeds, or one of the people trying to put out Wyoming (which is on fire), or someone in Holland (with which the US is conducting a Cold War). Stuck with Oscar Valparaiso, I could only writhe in frustration.

Sterling fans will want to read this; I don't particularly recommend it to anyone else. Read "Schismatrix", read "Crystal Express", read "Islands in the Net", read "The Artificial Kid". If you've read all those and are dying for more Sterling, read this, but don't set your expectations for it too high...

Amidst other fine answers to this week's prompt (the rest of which will appear In Due Course), a reader writes:

Being an Irishman, I can relate some good common sense to the good people who regularly read the David Chess weblog. First, take a glass and fill it half full of whiskey. Now an Englishman, being a a slight dull of wit and living in a monarchy fit not for a slug at that will rejoice in being an heir to a glass half full. A Frenchman, on the other hand, will complain bitterly that the glass has been filled only to the halfway point. An Irishman, being a man of practicality, will quickly empty the glass of it's beloved contents and then make haste to get it filled again.

(Apologies to any offended English folk!) Having red hair myself, I am reminded of one of my favorite jokes. It's rather long and discursive; I will try to summarize without killing the humor, if any.

A bartender in Dublin observes that a particular gent comes in every night and orders three glasses of whiskey, which he carries to a corner tables and drinks, taking one drink in turn from each until all are empty. One night, overcome by curiousity, the bartender asks this regular why he drinks in just that way.

"Tis simple," replies the gentleman, "I have two brothers who have gone to America to seek their fortunes, and before they left we swore to each other that we would each have a whiskey for each other every night, so as not to forget."

This satisfies the bartender, and things go on as usual for some months, until one night the fellow comes in and orders just two drinks, and takes them to his corner and drinks them alternately until both are gone. This saddens the bartender greatly, and as the drinker passes the bar on the way out the bartender says solemnly, "I share your grief."

The patron frowns for a moment, and then smiles. "Ah, it's kind you are," he says, "but 'tis nothing like that. Me brothers are fine; it's just that I've given up drinkin'!"

I don't know why I find that so funny...

Monday, July 24, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

OK, so I've added a "Search" link, pointing to this search page, to various Log-related pages. Whaddya think? I didn't put a quick search input-box here in the Log itself, because it'd be too easy to confuse that with the reader-input box, and reader input is more important (heh, heh). I also haven't put a main site style search page up, because I can't decide how to fit a link to it into the site design (I don't think I want to make the lefthand button-bar one button taller).

Even more earthshakingly, you can now buy official davidchess.com merchandise on the Web! Really!

Although I can't imagine why anyone'd actually want to, especially considering I spent about ten minutes on the "design" of the items.   *8)   While my particular store is silly, I'm completely blown away by the general idea of what CafePress.com is doing. (Thanks to geegaw for mentioning it.)

I'm sure there were dozens of little proto-startups out there thinking "let's see, we can provide a simple web page, credit-card and shipping services, even help them produce the goods; how about we charge like $5,000 for initial setup, and then $500 per month, plus 15% of gross proceeds?". Then CafePress.com comes along and asks what deserves to be The Web Commerce Question: "why would we charge anything for this?".

I can't wait for version 2: pens? fridge magnets? maybe even black T-shirts? More frighteningly, why not books? iUniverse.com sort of does this with books, but they haven't asked the question hard enough yet: they want money upfront, they want to have their creative people work with you on a book cover, and they're talking weeks between submission and availability. Heck, my book should be available for ordering ten minutes after I upload the text and the GIF with the cover art!

What an odd world it is...

More Lao Tzu "Haiku". These are drafts of the first four chapters of the book.

How can I say it?
The blooming, buzzing world
Silent in the void.

The coin has two sides;
Sitting and breathing the air
Let your hand open.

To rule the earth,
Fill the bellies, clear the minds;
Are you that simple?

The source of the world,
It is like an empty bowl
Hidden in the deep.

I am Profundity Itself, eh?

Friday, July 21, 2000  permanent URL for this entry

I'm famous again! Also, I work for AT&T! This comes as something of a surprise!

Talking shop, Microsoft has three new security bulletins just today. Way to go! (Two are brand-new, one updated.) Oddly, as of this writing they aren't yet listed on the main security bulletins page.

Shouldn't they really be called insecurity bulletins?

A reader writes:

On the "Weblogs are bad" essay: Theodore Sturgeon said, "Ninety percent of everything is crap." This applies to the web as a whole and also to weblogs. (OK, probably more than 90%, but the exact number isn't important.) My question is, why does it take Rich Robinson three long pages to say what Sturgeon said in one sentence?

I should note also that alistapart ran a contrasting essay on that same day. It says some good stuff, but it's a bit (what?) Jonathan Livingston Seagull in tone. It's simple: everyone should just write stuff! There is No Rule 5!

Steve Gibson has, as well as his very good technical analysis of various download spies, a powerfully-worded page about The Ethics of Anonymous Surveillance for Profit. I'm not quite convinced that targetted marketing is the moral equivalent of subliminal advertising, but I do agree it's obnoxious (unless done opt-in).

On the other hand, I had a personal experience that has reminded me that privacy is doomed, and it's doomed because the vast majority of people Just Don't Care. I blew up (made a big scene, forced M into "no, he's not with me I just happen to be standing near him" mode) at a poor salesdroid at the local Circuit City. I don't mind being asked for my address and phone number, but when I say "I don't want to give you that", the salesdroid is not supposed to insist that he needs it, and refuse to accept 555-1212 as my phone number. So I harangued him into entering the first phone number that came into his head (I think it was actually his own), and I rather nastily and loudly dictated, one character at a time, an obviously fictitious address.

After I calmed down a bit, I said "this must have happened to you before?", and he said no, no one had ever complained or been reluctant to give their personal information in return for the privilege of buying discount electronics. No one. Now it could be that he was lying, or it was his first day on the job, or everyone else just has their fake phone number and address memorized (I plan to for next time myself), but I doubt it. I think people just don't care. The store's computer knows my address and phone number? Of course! Computers know all sortsa stuff like that. Nothin' ya kin do 'bout it...

http://wwww.[word][word].com/: RubberBurner.com ("Yes, I am a race car driver, but I am also a clean, sexy, and stylish guy"). From gorjuss.

Defense Intelligence, with style: www.dia.mil (Flash required).

Speaking of which, are we sure it's a good idea for the military to get into ubiquitous computing research?

The nature of consciousness: I've finally added a page on free will to the Problems of Consciousness pages. By the way, if you have an interesting anecdote on the nature of your own (or others') consciousness, we're in the market; send 'em in!

On the same topic, Abuddhas Memes points to (among a Whole Lot of other interesting stuff on consciousness) another instance of Dennett being obstinate:

I anticipate a day when philosophers and scientists and laypeople will chuckle over the fossil traces of our earlier bafflement about consciousness: "It still seems as if these mechanistic theories of consciousness leave something out, but of course thatís an illusion. They do, in fact, explain everything about consciousness that needs explanation."

I don't really think we can get rid of the puzzle of subjectivity by just deciding that it doesn't need explaining; I've added a note to that effect to the poc unsatisfying answers page.


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