Friday, August 29, 2003

Second guest, not second best

Our second guest cat hails, like the first, from sunny Ann Arbor MI. But he couldn’t be more different from his predecessor. Far from a computer nerd, Olaf is an outdoorsman and mighty hunter of racoons. Or more accurately, a mighty hisser at raccoons. But that’s still pretty tough. Here he prepares for the coming winter by posing before the fireplace.


Filed under: cats

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Definition of postmodern angst

Acquiring the Simpsons 3rd season box set, F-zero GX, and Soul Calibur on the same day.

Also file under “Sleeplessness, causes of.”

Filed under: culture/games

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Belated blogroll updates

Unfogged The sole addition to the group-blogs section (you did know there were sections, right?) barely belongs there, since Ogged dominates his blogmates by a ratio of about 1000 to 1 -- except in the all-important 'living in Chicago' category, where Bob equals, or possibly excels, the mysterious O-man. But who am I to judge? Group or no, the topics covered are diverse, the writing is lively and intelligent, and Unfogged is always worth a visit. UPDATE: Ogged also excels in the 'reading his own site' and 'correcting me nicely' categories -- it's phantom co-blogger Unf who hails from Chicago, not proud Philadelphian Bob. Apologies to Bob for a gaffe of Kerry-like proportions. Pandagon Jesse is Matt Yglesias with a side of Ranma, graphically and otherwise. By this I do not mean that Jesse turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. Oliver Willis Joe Conason says Oliver Willis is "just cool." Not so -- he's also funny, and he knows stuff, and for reasons incomprehensible to man, he likes Britney Spears and the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. Conason, consider yourself corrected. FurdLog Frank Field's FurdLog is every bit the invaluable copyright and technology news and commentary site that mine is. Er, I mean, that CopyFight is. GROKLAW Paralegal pj covers all things SCO. Complete with actual research and heaping doses of humorous scorn. Greplaw The Slashdot of technology law, only without the hot grits. Juan Cole's Informed Comment If you want to actually understand what's happening in Iraq, rather than just absorb the news and regurgitate it as partisan spin, you must read Juan Cole. Iraq Democracy Watch Aggregated news and commentary on the state of the occupation. Salam Pax The most belated of belated entries. Salam is an amazing guy, and a great resource -- not only for his own close-up take on events in Iraq, but for his habit of inspiring and finding new Iraqi bloggers, including the next three folks. G in Baghdad G's photoblog Salam's friend G is an infrequent poster and, well, writes like a photographer. Still good. And the photos are amazing. Baghdad Burning Riverbend is a 24-year-old woman living in Baghad. She used to be a computer programmer. Now she can't leave the house without two male escorts and a chador. What the hell are we doing over there? Ishtar Talking Another Iraqi woman, blogging from Basra in Arabic, with translation by Salam. turningtables moja may not have much use for the embarassment of punctuation we enjoy, but he is no less than a hell of a writer. He brings you into the sweaty, uncertain world of a soldier in Iraq, makes you understand at least a little bit of what he lives through and sees every day. You should be reading this.

Filed under: culture/blogs

Friday, August 22, 2003

Scared straight?

The wily Professor, probably inspired by those prison-break movies he loves so much, tried to escape in the laundry today. He made it as far as the basement. He knows what that means: one week in the box! But he just can’t help himself.

The little one? He was just along for the ride.


Or, in the real world, these are the boys in their carrier the last time we moved. The Prof. doesn’t really like prison-break movies, but he does really like crying constantly while in the car. In an odd coincidence, I also cried for hours while watching Papillon. We were both crying the same thing, I think: Oh please! Make it stop! Won’t! Someone! Please! Make! It! Stop!

Filed under: cats

"The": for men only?

Bob at Unfogged, in addition to echoing my views of President Bush perfectly, has helped me to discover that I write like a girl.

While the Gender Genie is pretty silly, I do feel that, especially in fiction, there are recognizable differences between writing by men and writing by women. I can’t quantify it—certainly not by counting uses of ‘the’ versus ‘with’ as Gender Genie does—but it’s more than a feeling that it would be unlikely for a woman to have written John Norman’s execrable ‘Gor’ novels, and less than a feeling there are plots, characters, settings or styles that are unavailable to either gender. I suppose it’s a reflection of my own unwitting education in gender roles: sometimes authors surprise me by confounding expectations that I don’t know I have. And those expectations and surprises are differently arrayed when I know I’m reading a man’s writing rather than a woman’s. Which I think means that it’s all in my head. But since we’re talking about experiences of made-up worlds, does “it’s all in my head” actually mean anything?

Filed under: culture/books

"Big Lies," big nitpick

In the midst of an otherwise laudable chapter on liberals and their underrated toughness on terrorism, Joe Conason whips out an argument that is wrong in about 27 separately enumerable ways:

The recalcitrant Republicans later defeated another potentially important White House initiative. Led by then Senator John Ashcroft and computer industry lobbyists, they rejected proposals to tighten controls on encryption software and to ensure that law enforcement officials could crack the kinds of coded messages found on the laptop owned by Ramzi Yusef—the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Intelligence experts believe that the September 11 plotters probably used encrypted computer links to communicate with their commanders in al-Qaeda.

I don’t have the heart or the energy to rebut this ridiculous, specious, nonsensical, counter-factual, technophobic, jingoist claptrap in full. But here’s the PowerPoint version.

  1. Cryptography is math. Much of it is not even very hard math.
  2. Americans are not the only people who can do math.


  1. Banning the ‘export’ of cryptography is just as impossible as banning the ‘export’ of algebra.
  2. Also, it is not possible to install a backdoor for the FBI in every piece of cryptographic software, even if the law says that you have to. Haven’t we heard “if you criminalize guns, only criminals will have guns!” often enough?
  3. And trying to ban the export of cryptography would only result in unilateral American crypto disarmament. Prevent scientists from talking about their science, and their progress will slow, and some of them will go to places where they can speak and research freely. Net result: terrorists with better crypto than the FBI. Not “better than the FBI can break”—just plain better.

Ashcroft, to his credit, was on the right side in this fight. Clinton was wrong, and Conason is too. “Big Lies” is a good book, but it would have been better without this argument.

Filed under: politics

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Grim portents

“we have plunged into darkness,” says Salam Pax.

Yes, we have: and it is a darkness too familiar. Just as now, after years of ever-increasing viciousness, no peace seems possible between Israelis and Palentinians, so too does no end of war seem possible in Iraq. And it has only been a few months, there: we’re ahead of schedule.

Glenn Reynolds and his cadre think this is a great thing. But the problem with flypaper is: there is an unlimited supply of flies. That we are attracting Al-Qaeda to Iraq, where they will try to kill our soldiers, is not in any serious doubt. That this will in some way prevent Al-Qaeda from killing Americans in America is a keyboard-jockey delusion. And also, to strain the metaphor, the flies don’t all stick to the paper in an orderly fashion. Sometimes while sticking they blow up innocent people, pipelines, and international bodies. Even I can’t give Bush credit for so little humanity as to imagine that encouraging Al-Qaeda to kill UN representatives and to leave Baghad substantially without drinking water was part of the grand plan.

War apologists: you are living in a dream world. Iraq was not a threat to the US until we made it one. An uncomfortably large percentage of our military might is now tied down in a police action without even an exit strategy in sight. Your favored theories of the moment—that we went in to Iraq to bring liberal democracy to the benighted Arab, and that we went into Iraq to give Al-Qaeda a target closer to home—are mutually contradictory: Iraq will never have a civil society while it’s filled with truck bombers. And you had better hope that Bush lied about the ever-elusive WMD, because if he didn’t, then we’ve just attracted Al-Qaeda to a country full of loose and unaccounted-for chemical and biological weapons. And yet you say that this war has made us more safe. I just want to know: how so?

Filed under: politics/war

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Best political website of the season

Mullets for Chandler. There's nothing I can say. It speaks for itself. Though I suppose I have to emphasize: I do not mean this ironically. Conservative pundits and politicians love to tar liberals as elitists, but stories like Greg's make it clear who the real elitists are.

So without further ado, the excellent words of Greg Spurlock, Mullet-wearer and voter:

My name is Greg,
and I have a Mullet

I may not be part of a country club, drive a Jaguar, or drink martinis, but I vote.

And when the lever is drawn in Kentucky on November 4th in the Govenors race, it will be for Ben Chandler.

(via Fark) Visit Greg’s site, then find out what inspired him to start it up.

Full disclosure: I myself once sported a mullet, sometime around 1985 or so. No, there are no pictures.

Filed under: politics

Friday, August 15, 2003

SCO nonsense rampage continues

According to ZDNET and slashdot, clever SCO has a new legal strategy: attacking the GPL. (Quotes from ZDNET article.)

IBM‘s defense will partly rest on the argument that SCO distributed its own version of Linux for many years, containing the allegedly infringing code, and that by this action effectively placed the code in question under the GPL.

SCO is planning to respond that the GPL itself is invalid, SCO‘s lead attorney, Mark Heise of Boies Schiller & Flexner, told the Wall Street Journal in a report on Thursday.

Why is the GPL invalid?

SCO will argue that the GPL‘s provisions allowing unlimited copying and modification are not compatible with US copyright law, which allows software buyers to make only a single copy, says the Journal. Heise said the GPL “is pre-empted by copyright law”, according to the report.

As many in the slashdot discussion thread linked above say, someone needs to explain to Mr. Heise the difference between a ceiling and a floor. Someone should also take him round to a printing plant, another place where people who are not the personal holders of copyright in a work routinely make more than one copy of that work. In a case marked by wrong and stupid arguments, this is surely the stupidest.

But the SCObies aren’t always wrong about everything. CEO McBride is dead-on when he says:

At issue here is more than just SCO and Red Hat[.] What is at issue here is whether intellectual property rights will have any value in the age of the Internet.

That’s exactly right. What’s at issue here is whether the intellectual property rights of all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of programmers and companies who have contributed code to Linux will be respected. They have chosen to license their works—their “property”—under the GPL. If you actually respect intellectual property rights, then you have to respect that choice. Far from being a threat to intellectual property, the power of the GPL derives entirely from intellectual property law. The GPL is a copyright license. Without copyright, it would be meaningless.

But McBride is just talking out of his capacious ass, as usual. He doesn’t respect anybody’s intellectual property rights. He doesn’t care about intellectual property. He is actively suing people to prevent them from using their own intellectual property as they see fit, for no other reason than personal profit. SCO‘s case is about pumping stock to produce ill-gotten gains for SCO and Canopy group insiders. I don’t know if these sorts of shenanigans are against the law, but they damn well should be, and McBride should be giving his next FUD-filled interview from prison.

Filed under: copyright

20% more!


Someone at the Chex factory is in very big trouble.

Filed under: cats

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Where it's due

Norm Coleman is not a guy I’d go out of my way to praise. I don’t like him. He’s only in the Senate because one of the last honest people in politics died during the campaign, and because the right-wing phony outrage machine was instantly cranked up to 11 by the supposedly inappropriate quality of the grief and determination shown by those left behind. The way the Republican party spun the Wellstone service was despicable and unforgivable.

That said, I’m glad that Senator Coleman is doing this:

A Senate panel will hold hearings on the recording industry’s crackdown against online music swappers, the chairman said Thursday.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) made the announcement in a letter to the Recording Industry Association of America. He had received information he had requested from the group about the campaign, which Coleman has called excessive.

I doubt much will come of it, but it’s a little public pushback on the side of balance and sanity in copyright law. That’s a good thing. If I were a Minnesotan, I’d be a little less pissed off about my Congressional representation today. Good show, Norm.

Filed under: copyright

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Trivial pursuits

Dana Milbank is a great reporter. Through the Clinton and Bush administrations, he has consistently done well the first job of a political reporter: holding the powerful responsible for their words and deeds, questioning them vigorously, and sharing with the public the knowledge we most need, which is usually the knowledge the powerful least want us to have.

That’s why his horrendous, stupid story about John Kerry failing to properly eat a sandwich is so disappointing. Look at this lede:

If Sen. John F. Kerry’s presidential aspirations melt like a dollop of Cheez Whiz in the sun, the trouble may well be traced to an incident in South Philadelphia on Monday.

Wow, sounds serious. What did he do, announce Osama as his VP pick? Nope:

There, the Massachusetts Democrat went to Pat’s Steaks and ordered a cheesesteak—with Swiss cheese. If that weren’t bad enough, the candidate asked photographers not to take his picture while he ate the sandwich; shutters clicked anyway, and Kerry was caught nibbling daintily at his sandwich—another serious faux pas.

But this seemingly trivial incident may not be so trivial at all!

For Kerry, a Boston Brahmin, this is something of a sore spot. As he seeks to lose his reputation for $75 Salon Cristophe haircuts, Turnbull & Asser shirts and long fingernails to play classical guitar, he has been seen riding a motorcycle and doing other regular-guy things.

Appearing out of touch with the common man can be deadly for a candidate. Recall George H.W. Bush’s wonderment in the 1992 campaign upon coming across a supermarket scanner, and Sargent Shriver’s legendary request for a Courvoisier while visiting a milltown bar in 1972.

Because it’s all part of a pattern of eliteness! Just like Al Gore! Only instead of being a serial exaggerator—a very serious crime!—Kerry is a serial snob! He can’t even order a regular sandwich like a regular guy! And he nibbles daintily, like a little French girl eating ice cream in the park, most likely while surrendering to someone, or dying of heat stroke! Ha ha ha!

Give. Me. A. Break!

I get that this is supposed to be funny. What I don’t get is why the Washington Post is wasting ink and column inches on moronic, destructive drivel. Picking Presidents is serious business. I don’t care how many miles George Bush jogs around his ranch. I don’t care about Kerry’s fingernails, or the thickness of Dean’s neck, or how much mousse is in John Edwards’ hair. When a great reporter like Milbank flushes a column down the toilet like this, we all lose: we lose what we might have learned if he had written about something that matters, and we lose a little bit of seriousness from a process already over-trivialized.

So I have a modest proposal. How about we all agree to pick our next President based on our best understanding of his character, intelligence, and policies, and not on how he chews his food? Ok?

Filed under: politics/2004

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

It's clobberin' time

I’m trying to figure out why I don’t like Dennis Kucinich. It’s not his policy positions—not all of them, anyway—and I’d like to think I’m not just creeped out by his looks and demeanor. I always played Elves in D&D. We should have a natural connection!

But when I read his blog , or his guest posts on Larry Lessig’s, I just feel like punching somebody.

Sometimes it’s the things he says:

As the next President of the United States, I intend to address [corporate media and media accountability] directly. First, the Justice Department will engage in an ongoing dialogue [sic] with major media over how the public interests can be better served.

Sometimes it’s the way he says those things:

Just about every day of my life, I’ve met people who, because of fear and doubt, cut themselves off from the incredibly expressive power of the human heart.

But they combine to call up visions of a tripped-out John Ashcroft in a Beatles wig, just running around smoking fatties and weepily hugging people and then having them arrested for not serving his “public interest” quite right, and yes, it creeps me out.

Filed under: politics/2004

Friday, August 08, 2003

Friday cats

Pedestal II: this time, it’s personal. Again.

The Professor may be a wild-haired, absent-minded academic, but contrary to stereotype, he also has a mean left cross, and an even meaner “knock you down and stand on you until you squeal like the tiny kitten you are.” In an effort to preserve for poor Linus a smidgen of dignity, we will show only the middle portions of the fight, where he looks for a second like he’s got a shadow of a hope of a whisper of a chance. The end, with the tackling and the stomping and the squealing, you will have to imagine for yourself.

Filed under: cats

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Is Orin being honest? No.

Deborah Orin throws out a challenge: IS DEAN BEING HONEST? WELL, DEFINE ‘HONEST’.

Sure, I can do that. First, let’s see an example of dis-honesty. Heck, we don’t have to look any farther than the end of Orin’s column:

Dean also said this week, “I opposed the Iraq war very early on – and the reason why is I simply did not think the president was being candid about the uranium deal with Iraq.”

There’s no doubt Dean opposed the war early, but not because of President Bush’s uranium claims. They didn’t come until very late, in Bush’s Jan. 28 State of the Union speech, just weeks before the war began March 19.

Oh really?

September 2002: “Powell, appearing before a closed hearing of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, also cited Iraq’s attempt to obtain uranium for Niger as evidence of [Iraq’s] persistent nuclear ambitions.” (New Yorker, 3/31/2003)

December 2002: In a letter released on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was forced to wait six weeks for the evidence – from December 2002 to early February 2003 – at a critical time, when it was investigating US charges that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear programme.

During that period, the US several times repeated the allegations, most notably in President George W. Bush’s January State of the Union address. (Alden, Edward, Guy Dinmore and James Harding, Financial Times, 7/09/2003)

“Washington, for the first time, publicly identified Niger as the alleged seller of the nuclear materials [to Iraq].” (New Yorker, 3/31/2003)

These clips are from the Dean website itself.

So, define ‘honest’? Ok: honest is the opposite of Deborah Orin.

Filed under: politics/2004

Satire just isn't what it used to be

Nope. Now, it’s reality. As if further evidence were required, S/a/O is proud to present our first semi-interactive quiz like game product.

We call it “Match the crazy satirical article from Library Lit.‘s 1970 edition with the crazy law and/or product from today!”


    The Admonistration has named Federal watchdog Eggbert Heever to head a new agency that will weed out undesirable library borrowers[]. Effective immediately, all library circulation procedures will require fingerprinting, and a computerized record will be kept of patrons borrowing any but USIA-approver titles. Mr. Heever has pledged to tap into telex and other library network wires in order to nab criminal types at the point of circulation. In addition, borrowers taking out more than five books a month will be photographed; those taking out more than ten will be subpoenaed to show cause why they should be reading to that extent.

  2. Copyright Bill Finally Due for Passage

    Thanks to the Head Acid Officer at the Lyeberry of Congress, the Shewsworth institute has developed a paper which will self-destruct within twenty-four hours. This advance has so allayed the fears of authors and publishers about unauthorized copying of their works, that former stringent penalties for such copying in libraries are no longer needed. As a result, legislators have now put the finishing touches on the new copyright bill. The bill still retains the injunction to erase all magnetic tapes automatically, and sever penalties are included for the hardcore use of software.

    The Institute had first worked on inks which would fade within twenty-four hours, thus answering the authors’ and publishers’ demands for protection. It was pointed out, however, that getting rid of the paper itself was far better, since some unfair user might treat the ink to make it permanent again.

    As a first experiment, the copyright bill itself will be printed on the special paper.[]

  2. Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  3. Disney's self-destructing DVD

What’s the prize? You get to cheer yourself up by reading about IBM finally putting the smack down on the operation formerly known as Santa Cruz.

Filed under: copyright

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Politics is dead

Or should I say, ”Terminated.”

California—you aren’t crazy enough to elect another B-movie actor, right? Right?

Filed under: politics

Monday, August 04, 2003

Good guys 2, losers 0

Today was good day in the battle for freedom of information.

First, RedHat is not only suing SCO, but setting up a fund to defend all GPL software against the kinds of attacks that SCO has used against Linux. If there’s any justice, there will now be a quick and steep decline in SCO‘s stock, and Darl McBride and all of his cronies will be out of work and destitute before their stock-pumping IBM suit scheme can even come to fruition. Thank you, RedHat.

And second, Fritz Hollings will not be seeking re-election. There are still many enemies of freedom and progress in politics, too many of them in the Democratic party. But the guy who, not satisfied with trying to outlaw the general purpose computer, trained his guns on everything from remote controlled fart machines to digital hearing aides to Big Mouth Billy Bass will soon be enjoying a well-earned retirement far from the halls of power. Now if only he could take Conyers and Berman and Smith with him, we’d really be on a roll.

Filed under: technology

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Updated: DAO

An updated DAO package is now available here. API documentation, also slightly updated, is here.

With this bugfix release, DAO is now at version

# Fix bugs in SQL generation for UPDATEs of a table with an aliase, add tests for that case and a few others.
# Change count() strategy: now use numRows() after running the real select to get count of rows, rather than building new count(*) select; old strategy fails for grouped queries. The count tests have been removed from the test suite for now.
The count() change is fairly major, for a bugfix. Unfortunately, my previous count() method was poorly thought out, and failed in many common cases: GROUPed queries, for example, always count()‘ed wrong. It also forced an additional query, without gathering any more information than could be found by using one query (properly) rather than two. On an application level, the major implication of this change is that instead of using LIMITed queries for paging though large record sets, you should use the row argument to fetch() to fetch the rows from the whole found set that you want. This way, you can with one SELECT find the total record count, and be set up to load the desired records.

Filed under: projects

I am so smart

S.M.R.T. I mean, S.M.A.R.T.

Two months ago, give or take, I put forth a bold and original theory about Iraq’s mysteriously absent WsMD—a theory so bold, and so original, that there was no evidence whatsoever to support it. Well, at long last, those lazy so-and-sos in the press corps have gotten around to doing the boring legwork, and come up with the evidence that I once didn’t care that I didn’t have, but now realize was incredibly important all along.

Thus it is that via Talking Points Memo, I see that the AP is reporting that:

A close aide to Saddam Hussein says the Iraqi dictator did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community and stave off a U.S. invasion.

(Sidebar: Hey, one out of two ain’t bad!)

Compare with my own masterful theory-from-ass pulling:

Saddam destroyed his weapon stocks sometime in the last 12 years, but kept baiting the inspectors because fear of his weapons programs was just as effective at keeping in place the sanctions regime (which benefited him personally while destroying the lives of his people), and keeping his neighbors afraid, as real weapons would have been.

Indeed. Read the whole thing. Heh.

Filed under: politics/war

Friday, August 01, 2003

Friday cat

No, we don’t keep pedestals around just for the Prof. to pose on. It used to hold a plant. Which met the fate of all non-succulents in my care: an early, agonizing, simultaneously over- and under-watered demise.


And yes, that is a copy of Supercade. You know you’re jealous, just admit it.

Filed under: cats