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Thursday, February 15, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

We spent the night with Misty,
we moved to Corpus Christy.
We ate with the Beatles,
we stayed in our lane.


The future looks so frightening,
the long black line, the dragon's wing,
The infinite horizon,
the smell of burning tires
in the morning
by the highway.
My mind is turning somersaults.

I don't believe
but I've received
the Poetaster's last reprieve

Ooh, ooh, ooh,
missin' you.

The Referer Log is busy! Welcome, gazillions of Metafilter readers! I'm infinitely flattered to have been mentioned in the same breath as Noah Grey. Welcome also to those coming through Chris Wetherell's temporary portal (nice to see the RSS feed being used), and equally to Caterina's and Alamut's readers. I really need to do some adding and shuffling about in my own list of favorite blogs.

It really is "Duck" tape. Or at least some of it is (the kind for instance used at the Ig Nobels).

Self-indulgent Dubya-bashing: Nicely crafted headline in the Nation: Sorry, Wrong President. And a good quote from an article that I seem to have the wrong URL for:

Citing Mr Cheney's cardiac problems and his unparalleled power, Washington wags have taken to pointing out that Mr Bush is "only a heartbeat away from the presidency".

Just very, very odd. And this, too (renormous Flash).


Call the Ripley's people! I bought a box of mushrooms at the grocery over the weekend, and one of them was an Amazing Double Mushroom! Now for the first time anywhere you can see a grainy-low res image of this Botanical Marvel! Aren't you lucky?

Computers are annoying. For instance, the Hertz Corporation doesn't actually have rates; they just have a computer. So you can't call them up and ask how much it costs, in the abstract, to rent a certain size car for a day. You can only tell them an exact time and date and location you might pick up a car, and an exact time and date and location you might return it, and they'll tell you how much that would cost. Return it an hour later (or earlier) and who knows? Could be an extra million dollars!

Leonard Nimoy should eat more salsa:

In our final shot, you see the Action patrol has successfully restrained the individual and averted a potential crisis. This member was eventually found guilty of policy violation and suspended from any activity which may convince Leonard Nimoy to eat more salsa for a period of 6 months.

Back to serious stuff: One more reason I really ought to stop using NSI:

"On your mark, get set, go! The VeriSign/Network Solutions domain registration database is available for the first time ever. Approximately 6 million unique customers, sliced and diced for you to target prospects ..."

"... You can target based on their status in the dot com lifecycle: Is their web site live, is it secure or e-commerce enabled? We'll even tell you about their host switching behavior ..."

Did you realize that you signed up for this sort of sales blitz back when you got your domain? Surprise! And what's that? You've had your domain with NSI for ages, and you can't recall them ever clearly notifying you that your domain registration had become marketing fodder? You're not alone!

This recent Microsoft security advisory seems rather obscure on the surface; some bug in the skinning function of Media Player. But reading between the lines, here's your Fun Fact of the Day: If someone can get a ZIP file into a known location on your machine, they 0wn your machine. This is because the ZIP file can have Java classes in it, and Java classes from the local hard drive run without any security restrictions, and they can be invoked by random web pages (and sometimes email). Ooops!

(Note that Microsoft isn't fixing this; they're just fixing this particular way that someone could convince Media Player to put a particular ZIP file into a known place on your machine.)

More on the evil that is the DMCA. Ed Felten's lawyers advise him not to disclose how SIP broke the SDMI's watermarking scheme, even though he didn't sign the NDA, according to this Register article:

There's no question that the entertainment industry crafted the DMCA in hopes of suppressing all efforts to circumvent its lousy protection schemes, even at the cost of an intolerable stifling of academic research and publishing freedoms.

That much we always assumed; but we had hoped to see academia show enough spine to resist such intimidation. If the entertainment industry can shut down the free exchange of ideas within the academic world, then surely there's no safe harbour left to any of us.

In related news, EFF appeals DeCSS ruling, and prominent cryptographers file a "what a lame ruling!" amicus brief [HTML version].

(Some of these links are from the latest Crypto-Gram, which is even more worth reading than usual.)

And finally, (in various senses of that word) Nomic. To begin the "a little at a time" experiment hinted at yesterday, I'm applying just the following Rule Change Suggestion:

I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules:
Frigid howling winds
Bring winter to our doorstep
Nomic stirs again
New rule: For purposes of this game, the word "here" is defined to mean "this lexical point in the ruleset."

This gives a more specific meaning to Rule L: it's only rule changes from there on down that need to start with a Haiku. (Note also that there might seem to be a conflict between Rule XXVIII, which says that Rule Change Suggestions must begin with some reasonable equivalent of "I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules:", and Rule L, which says they must being with a Haiku. But the Scribe will be lenient, at least for the time being, and allow that it's possible for a bit of text to start with two different things at the same time.)

So everyone remember to brush and floss something every morning and night! (Rule XVIII) And all you newcomers, if you've actually read this far, take heart. It's not always like this. Sometimes it's rather like something else entirely...

Wednesday, February 14, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

After finishing The Secret of Platform 13, I found myself wanting more British kids' fantasy, so I finally took on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (I'd read the first three more or less right after the little daughter finished with them, but this one looked so long).

Gad, talk about a slow start! "Nothing much happens at the beginning, does it?" I said to the little daughter as I reached page 125 without anything much having happened. "I guess not," she said. "I'm reading about this World Quidditch Cup thing," I said. "Oh, yeah," she said, "that was awful!".

Things start to happen at around page 140, though, and then it gets better. It's definitely a bit darker and more mature than the first three; Harry Potter's "Empire Strikes Back". It's definitely a world that's fun to be in, but for me it has the same problems the first three did. In particular, the good guys always seem to win pretty much by accident, and the female characters are all nonentities or secondary sidekicks. These things don't ruin the reading experience by any means, but they're kind of annoying. This book also doesn't stand on its own very well (again, like "Empire"); subplots are left hanging (or has Hermione just given up on rights for house-elves?), and at the end of the day the bad guys seem to be winning. So I suppose I'll have to read the next one, too.

Nomic: I've had a little mail wondering about the state of the Nomic, and/or implying that it's dead. It's not dead! I just haven't processed a move for a couple of months. *8) I think I will experiment with maybe applying one or two moves every couple of days, rather than waiting until I have a long uninterrupted space of time (which I hardly ever do these days) and applying all pending moves at once. Maybe I'll start Tomorrow.


But anyway! It's V-Day (this morning beside the road that runs between the mirrored office buildings, someone had stuck a homemade sign, red and heart-shaped, saying "Mat Loves Shennen"; I thought that was nice). And I've got a hot lunch date!

Tuesday, February 13, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

"Sure is loud."
"I think that's sort of the idea."
"At least the sun's warm; it's a good thing they didn't do this yesterday."
"I hear it was someone burning toast in the cafeteria."
"The special effects are really lacking; there ought to be flames leaping up from the roof or something."
"Just wait; all the windows will blow out at once."
"That's the problem with being docked; no time to undock your laptop when the alarms go off."
"You wouldn't be able to read the screen out here anyway."
"I mean, if it was a real fire or something."
"Oh, but it never is."

Google buys Deja!! I didn't know Google had bought Deja. Did you know Google had bought Deja? I hope this is goodness. Google seems very clued; on the other hand the DejaNews database seems to bear some sort of Ancient Egyptian Curse.

Anna K.

So don't open unexpected attachments that come in the mail, even if they come from someone you know, and even if they seem to be pictures of Anna Kournikova. (You probably heard about this one on the news; it took off really quick. I analyzed it yesterday to make sure there wasn't anything special about it (there wasn't), and amazingly enough no reporters called. Perhaps my Fame has Ended!)

(And maybe install the Outlook Security Update, if you have Outlook installed.)

Obscure Web functions of the day: I stumbled across this Microsoft page whilst poking around in the UDDI repository. You can type in any word you like, and get back an XML document listing the word or phrase (if any) that Microsoft would rather you used instead. So far the only actual data I've coaxed out of it is that "Windows" should be "Microsoft Windows".

And Nina points us to The Amazon Honor System: Amazon makes it easy for people to give you money! What a good idea; I'll have to set up one of these myself. Click here to give me money!

From david mankins, Napster for objects:

A digital fabber is a new device that translates 3-D data files into physical products. Marrying this technology to the "peer-to-peer" Internet provides a radical new way to distribute products that shifts manufacturing straight into the customerís living room! This presentation looks at the technologies and impact of such a revolutionary capability. If record companies had a fit over Napster, wait 'til manufacturers find out you can download Rolex.fab or Ferrari.fab and make them yourself.

Very cool!

NEAR lands on Eros: also very cool; one could think and say all sorts of profound things about the size of the universe, the reaching out of humanity into space, the look of alien rocks. But I'd rather be vulgar, and point out that the image on this page is called chesty.jpg. Heh-heh, heh-heh. (Note also that CNN is still very nicely leaving their directories browsable.)

On my question yesterday about what the Human Genome Project has actually done, one reader writes (with what I suspect is considerable wit rather than a tragic slip of the fingers):

[Ack, hit return before I was finished. I meant to add:] (Readers who are knowledgeable on this subject will note that I have oversimplified quite a bit here in the interests of this not being a several-page-long explanation, leaving out such things as RNA as an intermediate step, the presence of introns, the existence of six possible reading frames, etc.)

and someone (else?) writes, a bit more usefully:

If you're interested in a bit more info on what sequencing of the human genome is and isn't, here's a very good comment on slashdot.

which does in fact begin to clear things up a bit. The impression I get is that once you've got the sequence of bases worked out, you can run a parser across them that will give you an estimate of which bits (and how many particular bits) of sequence constitute genes, for some understanding of "gene". I will venture to guess that our understanding of what a "gene" is will turn out to be pretty primitive, and that there will be a lot more things going on in the sequence than just those 30K "genes". But what do I know? *8)

The subject of pain has really inspired us! More painful than...

hacking together a Perl script to talk SOAP to a UDDI server down at the socket level

moshing at a Papa Roach gig

Bob Dylan's love life

anal insertion of the ENTIRE box of chick peas (really!)

using the phrase "excrutiatingly painful"

a persistent cervical lip (you don't want to know, trust me)

autoerotic asphyixiation with a string of tiny chainsaws

fending off cookies from exitfule.com

limburger cheese

a hot dog swallowed whole


not knowing what "Chala u'ka, te ole, chala u'ka me one" means. Any leads yet?


sex with the easter bunny

saying that the Federalist Papers suggestion is noteworthy because it came from Israel. It should have come from Florida...

Nope, I still don't know what "Chala..." and so on means; and what exactly would be so painful about sex with the Easter Bunny? Assuming no tiny chain saws or chick peas (and would those be frozen chick peas?).

"More painful than Limburger cheese"; I like that.

Monday, February 12, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Just a few random things to pass along today. Weekday readers note that we had two weekend entries over the weekend, both about books.

I'm a little confused by all this stuff about how surprisingly few genes humans have. I mean, we've known for a long time how many chromosomes we have, and about how many bases there are on each chromosome. So what did we just find out? That surprisingly few of those bases actually count toward "genes" in some reasonably obvious sense of "gene"? I guess I need to read up on what the Human Genone Project has actually been doing. I thought they were just figuring out the sequence of bases on each chromosome; but if that was all they were doing they wouldn't have been able to discover all this stuff that the newspapers keep saying they've now discovered.

From Bill: "Nice simple test for internet connection speed. A little slow over 56K.".

From Dad: Neal Stephenson's (anti)home page. A sobering reminder that people doing important things and people spending lots of time crafting their personal web pages and writing email aren't always the same people.

Biology is truly a mass of hacks; here's an impressive example:

Wolbachia actively seeks to eliminate non-infected hosts by stopping them from reproducing. To do this, the parasite alters the sperm of its male host, rendering it infertile when paired with an uninfected female. If, however, the male mates with an infected female, the damaged reproductive cells are "rescued" by the femaleís parasite.

Another interesting page about the Semantic Web, a concept that still sounds largely handwaving to me, but anything Tim Berners-Lee is interested in is worth keeping at least half an eye on.

Sunday, February 11, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

The best thing was very simple.
It was a door.
On the door there was just one word.

So to help with my recovery from "House of Leaves" (and I've decided, by the way, that the word "House" isn't actually blue in the title of the novel; it's just that the word is blue everywhere it occurs within the novel, including of course the title; but the blueness isn't inherent in the title in other contexts), I read the top two books from the little daughter's to-read pile on the back room table.

They were both kid's books with relatively simple plots and characters, but both good. They were also both more or less related to the theme of the List, which is either a coincidence, a sign that a really large number of books are in that class, or a figment of my tormented imagination.

The top one on the pile was "The Janitor's Boy" by Andrew Clements ("Best-selling author of FRINDLE"). A nice straightforward story of a sensible boy and his sensible father, and how they get over a slight rough spot and get to know each other better. The relevance to vasty houses is that at one point our hero (the boy) uses a "borrowed" key to open a door (the door in the quote above there) and finds himself in the mysterious unknown of the steam tunnels that run under the town. He gets locked in, explores, finds some interesting things with personal and family significance.

When I was an undergrad at Princeton there was, in one of the laundry rooms in the basement of some dorm, a huge heavy door that rolled sideways on tracks, and led into a piece of the campus steam tunnels. Once when someone left the padlock unlocked, we explored a little way in. It was a fascinating place, in a dusty creepy sort of way. Bare bulbs, cracks in the walls, dark corners. An alcove full of blown dry leaves, another alcove full of (discarded? broken? stored?) classroom desks. And of course big competent metal steam pipes.

"The Lurking Horror", one of the Infocom games I've never finished, is set on the campus of MIT ("G.U.E.") and features the famous steam tunnels (although I never got very far into them; missing some key or something).

...the gump is stil there. It is under Platform Thirteen of King's Cross Railway Station, and the secret door is behind the wall of the old gentleman's cloakroom with its flappy posters saying "Trains Get You There" and its chipped wooden benches and the dirty ashtrays in which the old gentlemen used to stub out their smelly cigarettes.

The second book in the pile was "The Secret of Platform 13", by Eva Ibbotson. Your typical "ordinary child with obnoxious guardians discovers that he's actually the prince of a magical land" theme (an ancient meme that long predates that Potter chap), with a bit of a twist. Fun, and nicely hearttouching when the prince is finally reunited with his parents, and then again when the little hag girl is reunited with the prince.

Some nice subtlties about the role of the darker creatures (hags, harpies, hell hounds) in what's basically a shining communal good-guy Magic Island utopia. And the whole thing is intensely British. *8).

Miss Brown, Miss Green, Miss Jones, and Miss Witherspoon were a little smaller than Mrs. Smith, but they had the same rank black wings, the same evil talons, the same stretch tops and bloomers ending in the same frills. They too had handbags full of makeup, but Miss Witherspoon kept a whistle and some dog biscuits in hers. She was the sporting one, the one who trained the dogs.

Saturday, February 10, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.

-- Mark Z. Danielewski

Disorganized zeroth impressions on finishing House of Leaves. [Mild spoiler warning: although I don't give away anything enormous, you may not want to read this if you haven't read the book and you plan to someday. And I do recommend that you read it someday if you haven't; it's good.]

"Bright Lights, Big City" meets "The Name of the Rose". Which is both praise and criticism. Eco's layers of meaning and intellectual treatment of emotion; McInerney's tragicomic haze of sex and drugs.

Doesn't hit me as a horror story; it's a sort of postmodern multilayer construct about horror (among lots of other things) but it doesn't horrify me itself. The house (and its impossible dark annex) could have been rather creepy and horrific if he'd left it as a hungry and unknowable silence; but once it grew fangs and started actually tossing the furniture around and breaking people's fingers it was more of a cartoon horror, and those don't frighten me much. My life doesn't contain man-eating linoleum, so I can't really relate (my life does contain certain silences, certain emptinesses, certain darknesses, so those can get to me more essentially).

Certain things are awfully cutesy. There may be some profound significance to the special coloration of "house" (and "maison", and "Haus"), but until I find one I suspect it's just self-indulgence. Same for some of the really over the top page layout. Same for the faux interviews with Camille Paglia, Douglas Hofstadter, Harold Bloom and so on (each of them propositioning Karen in cute but buffoonish parodies of themselves), and then Truant's account of having tried to contact the various personages to (dis)confirm their veridity, and the two replies he received. And the only book Navidson takes with him into the abyss: it's hard not to roll the eyes a bit when all we find out is its title, and it's "House of Leaves."

The bit with the celebs gives the reader a little "I'm so clever" frisson on realizing that those two replies are (in our universe, and perhaps even in Truant's) just as false as the inner interviews. (Here, we can be cute too: "I asked Camille about this in email last night, and she says she's never heard of either Karen Green or Johnny Truant"; but of course that wouldn't be true in any sense, since she's certainly read, or read of, the book by now.) Similarly realizing that "DNE" is almost certainly "Does Not Exist", realizing that the underlining of "both" in Zampanò's note to himself ("Perhaps will alter the whole thing; kill both children") suggests that there was some version of the story in which one of the children died. It's nice to be stroked; on the other hand I also felt vaguely patronized. (Maybe a week from now I'll suddenly realize the deep significance of all this stuff, and blush to have called it twee.)

But anyway; a bit of self-indulgent cuteness and a lack of immediately horrifying effect doesn't mean it wasn't a good book! I always find it easier to find fault at length than to praise at length (some character flaw). I enjoyed the layers of meaning, the atmosphere of impossibly thorough erudition (the multilingual quotations, endless references, long long long lists of photographers, architects, parts of houses), the enigma of the "house", the swarms of mazy footnotes, the sweet insanity and painful experience and odd double voice of both Johnny and his mother (mirroring each other, and Zampanò if indeed he existed, and Navidson even though he certainly didn't). The poetry, even (both Zampanò's and Truant's), and the lack of resolution; it seemed entirely appropriate.

I can imagine Reader's Guides to this book, FAQs, "The House of Leaves Companion and Glossary", "House of Leaves Explained". Has anyone yet gone through all the footnotes and references, and figured out which are real and which are fictional? (There are definitely some of each.) Made a table of the position and function of each of the "Ground-Air Emergency Code" footnote markers? Figured out just which words are indexed and which not ("with" is, "the" isn't), which words are included in the index as "DNE"? Whether or not variant versions of the book in fact exist?

Are there references in "House of Leaves" to Nabokov's "Pale Fire" (a very good book)? There'd almost have to be, but I don't recall any. If there aren't, perhaps the absence itself has significance to speculate on. (Also for that matter "The King in Yellow", and at least some of the books on the List.)

Yet another meta-layer of the book: it lends itself to analysis and explication just as it (one level of it) claims to be a small part of a culture of analysis and explication of The Navidson Record itself; we can imagine books that are to "House of Leaves" as the core narrative of "House of Leaves" is to the (doubly-fictional) film. But of course The Navidson Record doesn't actually exist (in our world or in Truant's) except within this fragment of analysis. Time will tell, I guess, whether the analyses and explications of our world's "House of Leaves" become any more real than the (fictional) body of work surrounding the (fictional) film.

And time (and Web searches) will tell whether or not I come to regret every word I've just written!   *8)   I'll go off and see what I can find in the way of reviews and analyses of this thing, and if I've been really shallow and stupid above, I know you won't make fun of me too gleefully. And thanks to those Loyal Readers who mentioned the book to me in the first place!

Friday, February 9, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Now you can buy Catherine's photographs. What a good idea! She takes neat photographs.

From Apathy, a way-cool soundscapes from pictures thing. Requires Java and stuff, but IMHO worth it once you figger it out. Wheeble wheeble ROOO wheeble!

So I promised the other decade to tell you about the Entity in the Trees. It was a really cool entity, and it was up in the trees, flowing amorphously around, reacting to who-knows-what (the motion of the air, the density of the food, the taste of the light, its own daydreams), usually something like spherical in shape, but sometimes stretched out or crumpled up or draped over a tree or making whirligig patterns in the air. I could see the evening sky through it, and that was pretty.

I wonder if the birds know that they're part of something so much bigger than they are? Or perhaps that's all they know. Maybe "a single bird" isn't really a first-class object at all.

Internet partitioned by cable snap:

Millions of people across China were unable to access much of the Internet on Friday after an undersea cable was severed, and an official at China Telecom said it could take three weeks to make repairs.

The break in the cable linking Shanghai to the west coast of the United States apparently sent reverberations throughout the Asia-Pacific region, with Hong Kong and Singapore reporting reduced online speeds.

Consumer Sentinel: a bit slick, but potentially inneresting stuff on the outside. Probably even more interesting stuff deeper in!

See how law enforcement all over the world work together to fight fraud, using Consumer Sentinel, an innovative, international law enforcement fraud-fighting program...

Consumer Sentinel has a restricted-access site that allows law enforcement agencies access to hundreds of thousands of complaints from consumers about identity theft and Internet cons, telemarketing scams and other frauds.

Netscape oddity of the Day. In various versions of the Netscape browser, stuff acts funny when you put it inside a table with the "align=left" attribute. In the version I have, for instance, you can't select such text (i.e. mark it for cut 'n' paste), and if you search the page for a word that occurs in it odd stuff happens (sometimes it's not found, sometimes some of the text becomes randomly marked, etc).

I was going to give an example on this very page, but it kept formatting all funny in my browser.   *8)   So I'll just send you over to thedigitalbits, which uses this sort of table on every page. If you're in a Netscape 4.x browser, see if you can mark anything on any page over there.

Pretty odd, eh? Bet that made your day! (At least I hope it did; I wasted like two hours figuring it out after someone casually pointed to digitalbits.com as "one of those annoying sites where you can't mark text"; so I'm a geek. After I figured it out I went looking for a page that listed it as a well-known bug, but I didn't find one. Pointers welcome, or perhaps this is Secret Knowledge.)


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