Friday, December 30, 2005

Leaky Trojans Cause Accidents

If you're here looking for photos of Tasmanian Devils and/or Tucker Carlson, I'm afraid Google's pointed you at the wrong place. Once upon a time, I linked to a couple of such photos hosted outside this blog, and when those photos disappeared from the interwebs, Google started sending people here instead. No, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me either.

So the links in the first sentence go to Wikipedia, and you may have better luck there. In fact I'm almost certain of it. Alternately, feel free to stay and poke around here for a bit, if you like.


In May, the cooling tower of the now-defunct Trojan Nuclear Plant is due to be imploded, by the same guys who did a real number on the old Kingdome. Locals had suggested keeping it around, either for use as a prison, or maybe to fill with beer during Oktoberfest. But alas, it is not to be.

The plant's been closed for years, and the reactor core was shipped upriver to Hanford a few years back. There was no way the thing could ever be reopened, so this demolition is mostly symbolic, but still, it's going to be Oh, So Satisfying.

The title comes from one of the many anti-Trojan petition drives back in the 1980s, and I'm afraid I can't take credit for it. It was (allegedly) the inspiration for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant where Homer Simpson works, and although I don't recall that it was especially leaky by nuclear plant standards, it *was* built right on top of several active seismic faults. Yeah, great plan, Mr. Burns, er, PGE.

I'm also afraid I can't take credit for the cool images up top, either. Clicking on any of them will take you to the larger originals.

Our buddies down at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have some pix up showing the appropriately phallic-looking Trojan core being dismantled. It's part of a larger series for students, featuring Our Friend the Atom, who isn't just a deadly isotope, he's also a friendly cartoon character.

I thought we'd dispensed with that patronizing crap back in the 60's, but I guess not. It's not like they're going to stop promoting nuclear plants any time soon, since GWB positively loves the things. Apparently they're really good for the environment, because nukes and oil are our only two choices. Go ahead, pick one, already.


Researchers at Oregon State University have now figured out how to grow potatoes that come in lots of different colors. Sure. It's all fun and games, until they attack Tokyo.

However, I'd hate for people to think that we on the West Coast have a monopoly on potato news. The East Coast gets in on the act as well, they've just got a different take on the subject. Here's the latest gruesome potato-related homicide out of Queens, NY.

Speaking of potatoes, if you're going to be in Scottsdale, AZ towards the end of January, be sure not to miss an exciting public appearance by the one and only Dan Quayle. Seems that while we weren't watching, the former fencepost-like veep has mutated into a "smart-as-they-come businessman". Believe it, or not.

Interestingly, the event is being put together by some org called the "Strategic Research Institute", and deals with the private equity market. A previous event of theirs starred none other than Larry Goldfarb, of Baystar/SCO fame. I'm noticing a theme here.

While we're vaguely on the topic of weird mutations, I recently saw a trailer for "Monster from Green Hell, a jungle-based atomic monster flick from 1958. And then I was shocked to discover that Netflix doesn't have it. This seems like a manifest injustice, although I may change my mind about that if I ever manage to see the thing.

...meanwhile, in non-tuberous news, Tropical Storm Zeta has just formed in the Atlantic. Anybody know what happens if we run out of greek letters? Kanji characters, maybe?


So that WMF file vulnerability I wrote about a couple days ago seems to be a Big Deal, with exploits popping up left and right. Worms, spyware, the whole schmeer. Here's some updated coverage about this fiasco from George Ou and Suzi Turner. If you visit Suzi Turner's "Spyware Confidential" blog, be sure to check out some of the other articles. Top 10 rogue anti-spyware is rather fascinating.

And I've yet to see anyone explain why it's even remotely reasonable that a malformed graphics file should allow arbitrary code to run under the SYSTEM account.

It's probably one of those things they "had" to do to maintain ass-backwards compatibility with ancient Windows versions, dating back to the pre-networking era. If you read Petzold, or just look at the exports of GDI32.DLL, you'll notice that functions for handling metafiles are right there next to your regular drawing primitives and so forth. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and now we're stuck with it.

Well, we're not really stuck with it. I have no Windows boxes at home. While one certainly can't rule out the possibility of, say, a PDF vulnerability in OSX (PDF being essentially the "metafile" format on OSX), it's not clear whether that would immediately hand over root access on the box. Even if it did, the bug wouldn't be exploited to anywhere near this degree. I definitely will at some point go off on a rant about crappiness in the Unix world, but not today.

In happier news for the PC (and soon Mac) universe, Intel's just unveiled its shiny new corporate logo. And now you know.

Meanwhile, in happier news for the Linux universe, it's always fun when Linus calls 'em like he sees 'em.

And then the thread continues.

Pretty much the ONLY people who ever complain about those internal kernel
interfaces changing are the free-loaders. It's hard for them, because they
don't want to play according to the rules. Tough. Watch me not care:

[ Linus sits in his chair, patently not caring ]


In that spirit, here's a webcam where you can watch live Gentoo penguins in the wild, from a German+Chilean research station in Antarctica. What's really fun is that the station itself isn't primarily concerned with penguins; the big dish in the background is the main deal, and it's used for satellite tracking and VLBI. Which further supports my hypothesis that there's a deep and mystical connection between astronomical research and cute wildlife, for example see my WOMBAT post from a few days back. I can't explain the connection, but I find it oddly comforting.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Today's giant bug movie called "Cosmic Monsters", a.k.a. "The Strange World of Planet X", from way back in 1952. You haven't heard of it because it's mostly a lot of talk, and only delivers the giant bugs in the last act. Also, it's British. Mad scientist damages Earth's magnetic field, allowing cosmic rays to hit the earth. As a result, bugs and lizards grow to "gigantic" proportions and start ravaging the fair English countryside. Until the local authorities show up with guns and shoot them darn bugs. Then a benevolent alien steps in and has his remote-control UFO whack the mad scientist, and we all live happily ever after.

Pretty run-of-the-mill, but it gets points for openly acknowledging the tired cliche (already, in 1952) of the token icy female scientist, and making her cute and French instead. Also, the male "protagonist" is supposed to be Canadian, which is mildly unusual. Also, I like the bit where a large egg of unknown origin is discovered, and the scientists' advice is to go back to the kitchen and hard-boil the thing ASAP. I think this explains a great deal about English cuisine.

"Beginning of the End" is better overall, the photography is surprisingly good, and the DVD audio commentary is kind of interesting. I would dare to say this is the best locusts-eating-Chicago film that's ever been made, and that would be saying a lot if any others existed.

On the other hand, "Sting of Death" (which I saw recently) is quite a poor film, despite the big airboat chase in the Everglades, and the highly amusing jellyfish-man effects. You'll get most of what you need by watching the last 10 minutes or so. Although if you're really hard up for campiness you might look for the musical numbers as well, which feature songs and even a personal appearance by the legendary Neil Sedaka. Yes, you read that right.

Meanwhile, in more timely news, the 2005 Golden Turkeys are out, and Guy Ritchie (Mr. Madonna) wins big! I haven't seen a single movie on their top 10 list, which makes me rather proud. As a token contrary opinion, this blog posting argues that "Alone in the Dark" is one of the worst movies ever, right up there with Ed Wood's ouevre. Which just tells me that the author a.) lacks a proper historical perspective, and b.) doesn't realize that there have been far worse filmmakers than Ed Wood; for all his faults, his work holds your interest, which is more than you can say for many filmmakers of that era.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Extremely Critical!!!

So there's a new Windows security advisory out. We're told this one's EXTREMELY CRITICAL. All melodrama aside, it's exceedingly silly that one can gain absolute power over a Windows box with the aid of a malformed graphics metafile.

It's like the previous post about today's DDE nightmare. I haven't seen a live Windows metafile, whether WMF or EMF, for a long, long time. But that hardly matters, because Windows must keep supporting WMF+EMF forever, for the sake of backwards compatibility. And sandboxing these metafiles just wouldn't be the Redmond Way. So when a file that's (allegedly) of a certain format enjoys a privileged, non-validated gateway into the inner sanctum of the operating system, it only takes one malefactor, and it's game over.

Metafiles were a triumph of 1980s technology. The idea was that you could save disk space and cpu cycles (both at a premium) by just recording to a file each call to the low-level GUI portion of the OS. Displaying the resulting file would be a simple matter of playing back the sequence of OS calls. Great idea, if memory and CPU cycles are at a premium, and you're willing to sacrifice device independence, and OS independence. ISTR that the GEM gui was big on metafiles, from back in my Atari ST days. In this day and age, with wild Opterons roaming the Earth, it's a positively goofy idea.

Perhaps you've noticed this rant is slightly unbalanced, offering up far more outrage than the matter really deserves. Mea culpa. It's the beer, probably. When you're stuck with drinking a whole bottle of Gouden Carolus Noël because nobody else really likes it, your opinions tend to become rather, er, inflated.

In happier news, it seems that Satan has finally been captured by Our Boys in Blue, and he's now cooling his heels, er, hooves, in a Florida county jail. Your tax dollars at work! Although the fact that this happened in Florida may result in a bit of sibling rivalry between Governor Jeb and his brother George, who'd sworn to personally rid the world of evil. Maybe they'll go on Springer or something.

For your ecumenical reading pleasure, here are a couple of stories about the Father of All Lies (and stepfather to Darl McBride) from an Islamic perspective: [1] [2].

In that spirit, here's the (relatively) cutest picture I could find of a Tasmanian Devil. Note that this is not the animated Tasmanian Devil, as that would invite expensive "IP" litigation and so forth.

And another pic of Ol' Whatsisname, in his "Tucker Carlson" persona. The bow tie is supposed to make you think he's a harmless doofus. But don't be fooled. Inside the beltway, people who look like that are actually taken seriously. Honest.

[Updated 10/27/06: For the last week or so, I've been getting tons of Google image search hits because I linked to that photo of a certain bowtied beltway charlatan (who I won't mention by name a second time for fear of boosting my PageRank even further). You won't find the photo here, and I'm not sure I've even mentioned the guy again in any capacity. So I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place, if that's why you're here. Sorry about that.]

Be still my ugly old Hearts$

[This post isn't solely about weird Windows foibles, so if that doesn't interest you, feel free to page down.. It might get better, or not. Whatever.]

So I was looking through the security log on a local Windows box, and saw some activity on something called a "DDE Share". I like to think I'm pretty well-versed in the Windows universe, and I'd never heard of such a thing. Turns out it's a truly ancient form of interprocess communication in Windows, which can operate either on the local machine, or over the network. The main thing it's used for within Windows itself is for the multiplayer feature in MS Hearts. Seriously. I kid you not. I read over the API docs out of morbid curiousity, and I can't make head or tail of how it's supposed to work, which helps to explain why nobody uses it, and why MS appears to consider it an orphan technology they'd rather not talk about. Seems your DDE shares have UNC-like paths, and are protected with regular old security descriptors, which explains where those audit entries came from. Beyond that, how it works is a real head-scratcher to me, but obviously someone's figured it out, since there's at least one recent vulnerability report out there. The 'naming convention' for DDE shares is that names end in a dollar sign (i.e. "Hearts$", hence the title), except when they don't, or when other unrelated shares end in a dollar sign (i.e. "C$" for your C drive's hidden admin share ).

You gotta love it. You just gotta. So far as I can tell, MS has to keep this ugly beast alive just in case your shiny Win2k3 box ever needs to talk to some crufty old 286 running Windows 2.03 that accidentally got sealed inside a wall during the last remodel. Your department's kept this box around all these years because it runs some cheesy old legacy app that only speaks DDE and won't run in "386 enhanced mode", and you can't migrate because (naturally) you don't have the source. Lucky you.

But the one saving grace here is that the NetDDE services are disabled on "modern" versions of Windows, unless you go in and turn them on. So don't, already.

I'd hate for people to come away thinking that Windows is a random, seething, tangled mass of warts and scabs, because it isn't. Far from it. It's a painstakingly designed (and repeatedly redesigned) seething, tangled mass of warts and scabs.

This sordid episode prompted a quick Google News search for the word "ugly", which came up with a few fun hits:

  • Another sign that China's well on its way to becoming a modern, advanced country: They're the latest source of ignorant, pushy tourists. The article refers to them as the new "Ugly Americans", so at least we're still the standard by which all other tourists are measured. We can take pride in that, anyway. Hooray for us!
  • It's not just tourists that are ugly these days. Molecules are getting in on the act as well. It seems like a completely esoteric topic, and yet look at all the comments the article got. Way more than anything I've ever posted here. I don't get it. I really don't. Maybe I need to find something more obscure to talk about.
  • Politics are ugly. Everybody knows that. Politics are even ugly when there aren't any politicians involved, as anyone who's witnessed a major ballot measure campaign can testify. The author of the opinion piece seems to think that doing away with ballot measures will clean things up immensely, and return integrity to the democratic process. Riiiiight.
  • And of course, the all time winner in the "ugly" category is, of course, the male gender. A new study indicates that if you're ugly, you're probably a bad dancer as well, so you may as well not bother. The chosen yardstick for ugliness is how asymmetrical someone's facial and body features are, since past studies have shown that people and other mammals equate symmetry with attractiveness. Maybe there's really something to the whole "two left feet" cliche after all...

Ok, here's something obscure for ya. A couple of posts ago, I chatted a bit about various weird and fun kinds of numbers: infinite, infinitesimal, hypercomplex, and so on. I had a vague recollection that Godel, Escher, Bach contained a bit about infinite numbers, so I went back and checked, and noticed that it covers yet another variety of infinite quantity, "supernatural numbers", which aren't covered by Wikipedia.

So far I've come across several definitions. This one quite technical, this one rather less so. The problem is that I'm not sure the various hits I'm seeing are all referring to the same animal, and it's not clear that any of them are the same beast referred to in GED, either. I haven't seen any other references to the three-part indexing scheme the book refers to. "Supernatural" is an attractive (if rather obvious) name for an extension to the natural numbers, so is it possible the name's been used more than once? It's all so very confusing. Maybe that's the whole idea, I don't know.

I'd hate to end this on an ugly note, so here's an article with a picture of some adorable little piglets. It's a funny thing about pigs: They're cute, they're intelligent, and they're delicious. Just not all at the same time. Go figure. It's like a conundrum, or something.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2009, here we come!

This is the best news I've heard in a long, long time. Seems that GWB's already started "thinking" about what to do after he's not president anymore. So it looks like here's still at least an outside chance he won't declare himself emperor for life. At least if he's got a say in the matter. But if Cheney says he's got to stay, he stays.

He'd be a really poor emperor, if it came to that. For starters, the guy looks awkward and uncomfortable in anything fancier than jeans and a t-shirt. Just look at that silly blue tie he insists on wearing all the time, or the cheap, ill-fitting suits. Real emperors need regalia, and the regalia needs to look good on them. I realize there's a minor fashion model in the family, but GWB didn't inherit whatever genes are involved in that. He's certainly got the absolute power thing nailed, although it's debatable how much of that's really his idea, and how much he's a creature of other people's ambitions. Maybe it's more accurate to describe him as a late pharaoh or sultan, the product of many generations of careful inbreeding, utterly at the mercy of ambitious high priests or grand viziers, i.e. Uncle Dick. On top of everything else, he's failed in the primary duty of all dynastic despots, which is to produce a legitimate male heir. Instead, we've got two daughters, and twins, no less. We'd have to split the country in half, King Lear style, east vs. west this time instead of north vs. south, just for variety's sake. Jenna and Barbara would probably end up marrying either petty Eurotrash royals, or Kennedys, which is roughly the same thing. Then we could have a few decades of wars of succession, starting out with Prince Sven of the Western States pitted against Prince Luigi of the East. Then it's discovered that the late Emperor had an illegitimate, and, er, non-caucasian biological son in New Orleans (dating back to those fun times he reminisced about post-Katrina). He raises an army, and we have a three-way battle over who gets to be the next Emperor. About this time, aggressive neighboring countries take an interest and start annexing territory, until the rival Bushes are left with nothing but Monaco-like coastal enclaves in Houston and Kennebunkport.

Recent studies have indicated that fighter pilots are far more likely to have daughters than sons. I think the theory's that it's got something to do with g-forces and fragile Y chromosomes. So maybe, just maybe, George's otherwise-unremarkable Air National Guard service really did some good for the country after all.

Popculturama Update

I often tell people I'm "boycotting pop culture", which has a properly smug and elitist ring to it. More accurately, I'm not interested enough to devote the time it would take to keep up with all the, um, exciting developments out there. Also, most entertainment news makes me feel dirty all over just for having read or watched it. And not in a good way.

However, I couldn't help but notice that Kevin Federline now has his own website, on which he apparently threatens to release an album some time next year. I can't get to his site just now; either it's beseiged by hordes of adoring fans, or the firewall won't let it through, or maybe its a DDOS attack. It's hard to say. The way the ABC article describes it, the site's loaded with Flash, which I guess just stands to reason.

[what follows stems from a breakfast table conversation last week.]

While K. Fed is the object of a great deal of mirth, the full scorn and fury of the entertainment media is reserved for the young and female: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lindsay Lohan, Kelly Clarkson, Tara Reid, the Simpson sisters, the Olsen twins, Paris Hilton, and so forth. We're told that every single one of them is twice as dumb as a fence post, and a legendary skanky ho as well. Which, if true, would be an interesting statistical anomaly. That, or what we've really got is a window into the ugly souls of entertainment reporters. Even allegedly "serious" media spends much of its time pandering to the worst and basest instincts in the reading/viewing public. They figure that most people only pay attention because they want to have their existing prejudices reinforced. And one of the most enduring prejudices is that beautiful == stupid. Envy is an ugly, ugly thing.

Witness the cottage industry that's sprung up in the last few years, scrutinizing photos of various starlets and celebrities, looking for "suspicious" increases in breast size. I'm not going to lie to you and say the topic doesn't interest me, but I'm very well aware it's none of my business, no matter how famous someone happens to be. The really distasteful part is the "leer and sneer" reaction by the media when it decides someone's gone under the knife. They want to look, they really, really want to look, and they want to share the photos with the paying public. But at the same time they want to make it clear that the woman in question is a terrible person for having the surgery done, morally unfit, and stone dumb, never to be taken seriously.

None of this is to claim that Jessica Simpson's music or Paris Hilton's movies are enduring works of art. I'm also not claiming that either is a genius, because I have no idea, and it's impossible to get a real idea via media reports, plus it's none of my business. But even if they are dumb as sacks of hammers, I fail to see how that's such an unforgivable sin. By way of comparison, a male artist can be (or at least claim to be) a murderous, drug-dealing thug, and be considered a serious artist with important things to say. Is being a C- student really worse than gunning people down in the street? Can you say "double standard"?

Pistol Packin' Mama

So I'm back, after a few days of holiday cheer, family togetherness, etc. It's tradition that someone (not me) will always whip out a harmonica and play a few tunes, never Christmas music. Pistol Packin' Mama is always a staple. Did I mention we live in a Western state? Also, there's always a festive Jello salad. And for some reason, many relatives independently decided it was too much trouble to decorate a tree this year, which didn't seem to detract from the holiday in the slightest.

The point is that people celebrate in their own ways, for their own reasons, regardless of what Bill O'Reilly and the suburban megachurch crowd think about it. They'd like to think they alone own Christmas and get to exclude everyone else. They'd love to enlist government and business in an aggressive effort to impose their peculiar beliefs on the rest of society. They'd be delighted if the phrase "Merry Christmas" became exclusively identified with religious fundamentalism. We're lucky they haven't succeeded yet.

The typical counterargument against the fundies is that lots of religions have festivals this time of year, so we ought to celebrate a generic "holiday season" that includes everyone. I'm not a religious person, and I don't find this argument compelling in the sense that any of the reasons given are actually true. On the other hand, having a party this time of year is an ancient tradition, and seems to reflect a deep-seated need in people. Even hardcore fundies, if pressed on the subject, would probably admit that the "real" date of Christmas would probably be some time in the spring, but you don't see them trying to move the date to May, do you?

I'm not much of a traditionalist, either, but I like the feeling of cultural continuity that comes with Christmas. We're a practical, utilitarian country, and this is a rare time of year when we do things, often silly and pointless things, simply because they've been done that way (more or less) for hundreds of years, or at least grandma did it that way, more or less. Say what you will about Christmas music, but this is the one time of year when music is something you do, not just something that you buy. And everyone knows the words. More or less.

If the holiday season does put you in the mood to ponder the infinite, you might enjoy what Wikipedia has to say about the subject. I'm genuinely curious what religious people think about the notion of transfinite numbers. Proof of "intelligent design"? Or the latest thing cooked up by the global commie liberal conspiracy, right up there with "evolution" and "the round earth"? Georg Cantor certainly felt there was a religious significance to them, but he also ended up in the funny farm. So I'm not sure that's strong evidence either way. I just find the subject fascinating, in an entirely non-mystical sense.

Transfinite numbers are great for joking about price bubbles in tech stocks or real estate, or the imagined winnings from baseless IP litigation, as in "TO TEH ALEPH NULL!!!" Although in the latter case, I think either infinitesimals, or hypercomplex numbers, or some combination of the two, would be far more useful.

While we're on the subject of geekish takes on the season, the Cassini probe flew past Titan again yesterday, and as usual the raw images are murky and unintelligible. So we have to wait for the experts to process them before we have any clue what we're looking at. I'm sure there's a really fun conspiracy theory in here somewhere.

And here's a story about killer asteroids. And even this grim topic has a (rather perverse) holiday connection. Also, the story mentions an upcoming, super-advanced 1.4 gigapixel -- yes, you read that right -- camera to be used on the asteroid hunt. Note that there are only 363 shopping days left until Christmas 2006, and gigapixel cameras make truly excellent stocking stuffers. Hint, hint.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cyclotram redux, and a cute wombat

Ok, I found a picture of a real live Cyclotram. They just don't make lurid movie posters like they used to. Never mind that it's about the least lurid movie I've seen in a long time, but hey. Whatever gets 'em into the theater, I guess.

The top Google hit for "Cyclotram" actually brings up a picture in a gallery from the Czech tourist bureau, showing a tram and a bunch of cyclists. Which is kind of cool, because a.) I often commute to work on our local Czech-built streetcar, and b.) It's bound to displease the few people out there who still live in fear of Communist Czechoslovakia [pdf]. Perhaps you know of whom I speak.

Also, from the Department of Charismatic Megafauna, here's a cute wombat. And even better, the image links to the WOMBAT project at UC Berkeley, a study of the cosmic microwave background. So it's sort of a wombat with a purpose, I guess.

Speaking of UC Berkeley, didja notice that they -- and thus the Regents of the University of California -- just beat BYU (Darl McBride's alma mater) in the "Las Vegas Bowl"? I have to thank Darl for drawing my attention to this game, since I usually ignore football, and I especially ignore minor bowl games. But during SCO's quarterly conference call yesterday, Darl wanted to make a bet with one caller on the outcome of the game. Seriously. I think this was probably what spelled doom for BYU. The universe abhors all things SCO, and the BYU football team ended up as "collateral damage" of a sort. No word on whether we'll ever hear Darl sing the BYU fight song he was talking about yesterday, but we're probably better off if it never happens.

And what is football without beer? It seems that the guy who invented lite beer just passed away. Make of this what you will.

In other unrelated randomness, this GWB game is oddly hilarious, although playing it will probably get you into the federal database of evildoers.


The BBC has a nice overview of our Glorious Leader's inglorious year.

I've seen conservative types argue that all this criticism of the guy is wrong, even if it's merited, because in the end having a weak and discredited president is bad for the whole country. And quite possibly there's a kernel of truth in there. I certainly worry about what's in store for us over the next 3 years we're stuck with the guy. But the key thing is that he's brought it all upon himself. When you criticize the human rights record of, say, Belarus, and the dictatorial nature of that Lukashenka guy, and the rest of the world basically says "pot, meet kettle", that's bad, but the rest of the world's been watching us, and they have their reasons.

When a new appointment is announced, and everyone immediately assumes the nominee is an incompetent, corrupt crony, one might argue that's bad for the country, and for the "prestige" of the presidency, whatever that is. But it's not the public's fault he keeps appointing political hacks and toadies to top-level jobs they aren't qualified for. Healthy skepticism is not a crime, and skeptics are not enemies of the state.

I don't intend for this to be primarily a political rant blog. There are quite enough of those already, many of them worth reading. But sometimes you just gotta.

For example, get a load of this latest twist on the NSA surveillance scandal. Now John Bolton's involved, which is unsurprising. The really fun part is that this all came out in May, back when GWB could still do no wrong in the media's eyes. Therefore this story didn't get a lot of attention, since there's no obvious way to put a happy spin on it.

To be fair, I imagine that most EU governments do a lot more domestic surveillance than ours does. In particular, I expect the UK is absolutely rife with it, to a degree that nobody in this country would tolerate. I'm certainly not arguing that this is acceptable, but presumably they work within some legally binding framework specifying what they are and aren't allowed to do. Which is what we thought we had here, as well, with FISA and all. But no, now we're told that George holds some kind of "inherent authority" that entitles him to listen to any private conversation, and otherwise basically do as he pleases, regardless of what the laws of the land say.

A person with that kind of authority is a king, not a president. There are good kings and bad kings. Sometimes you get a good king (or queen), who exercises his (or her) power with benevolence and restraint. Or at least you get a mediocre ruler, who takes an attitude of benign neglect toward the country and doesn't give a lot of orders, period, benevolent or otherwise. George Bush Sr. might have made a decent king, for example. But the problem with good kings is that they aren't always good parents, and thus are succeeded by smirking, arrogant bad kings, secure in their airtight bubbles of courtiers, unwilling to tolerate any opposition at all. GWB and his cronies consider anyone they personally dislike as an enemy of the nation as a whole, meaning that it's not merely OK to act against them with absolute impunity, it's practically an obligation, and one they exercise gladly. Bad king.

But I don't want any kind of king at all. The general public doesn't want a king, and most interestingly, it seems the intelligence community itself doesn't want a king either.

In the current climate, it's understandable if people in the three-letter-agency community sometimes wax nostalgic for a more glamorous bygone era, when the likes of Julia Child and Josephine Baker graced the Agency payroll.

If you find the idea of Julia Child as a secret agent rather hard to believe, you'll want to watch some of her old cooking shows. In particular, check out the bouillabaisse episode on disc 1. Watch how she chops up all those fish. It'll make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, I tell you. And when she's done, it all ends up as part of a delicious and highly civilized French meal. The world is a strange place.

Sophisticated Urban Dweller

One of the travails of being a sophisticated urban dweller is the chronic shortage of parking. It's not just a matter of finding a parking spot every morning, no, you also have to worry about where to put the car at night. Somewhere that's legal, obviously, since freelancing just won't work on a long term basis. Not in this town, anyway. And somewhere where your car won't be skeletonized in minutes by some ragged tribe of meth tweakers. That would be a big plus, certainly.

So everything was all arranged. I'd found a nice parking spot in an underground garage, with round-the-clock security, and was renting it from a wonderful elderly lady who'd recently given up driving. Perfect. But then she passed away recently, and it's back to square one again.

Given the preceding two paragraphs, it must sound like I'm about to whine about city parking policies, or old people, or the unfairness of life in general. But that's not it at all. When I heard the news, my very first gut reaction was to think about my precious parking space, and I find that rather disturbing. I mean, I'm sure this happens all the time among us sophisticated urban dwellers, conditioned as we are by the ceaseless struggle over limited resources. Everyone, at some point, will regard other people as a means to an end. But completely give yourself over to that impulse, and... well, ok, you'll probably be named CEO somewhere, or elected to something important.

I'm sure I'll hear from the next of kin eventually when they sort things out and decide what to do. I can wring my hands all I want to, but they're the ones who've just lost a loved one, not I, and I'm not about to pester them over a petty little parking space.

[cue awkward transition to vaguely related subject.]

On a less personal note, and of more interest to the average sophisticated urbanite, are local blogs devoted to transportation and architecture, plus a post by a prominent local blogger bashing both of them. I came across all that stuff while hunting down this discussion about the ugliest buildings in town.

A few of my favorite ugly buildings, in no particular order:

  • Qwest building at SW Park and Stark. The grey concrete thing with tiny vertical slits for windows. You know the one.
  • Paramount Hotel. Cheap and tacky looking, even though it's a fairly expensive hotel. Many external architectural details are actually made of some sort of construction-grade styrofoam, believe it or not.
  • 200 Market Bldg. a.k.a. the Black Box. Looks exactly like all the other black glass box buildings that sprouted across the country in the 60's and 70's. I don't like any of them.
  • Portland State University has several winners, all built of the finest Soviet concrete. Among them, Ondine and the University Services Building really take the cake.
  • Park Place Condominiums. Brand new building of very expensive condos. The phrase "strip mall on its side" really fits this one, right down to the khaki stucco + red fake brick exterior. All the pictures I can find show it from its "better" side, such as it is.

Anyway, I swear I'm not going to spend all my time complaining about the city and the state. Really. I'm actually very fond of the place, believe it or not.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

URANUS!!!! GET IT??? HAR!!!! HAR!!!! HAR!!!!

Any news story about rings and moons of Uranus is going to generate lots of juvenile and scatological comments. I realize the title of this post isn't very good or original, and I'm sorry, really I am. I could probably put my mind to it and come up with something much more clever, but more likely I won't bother.

The two moons mentioned in the article were actually discovered back in 2003, although they've only just received names (along with 4 other moons at Uranus, and 1 at Neptune). The rings are new discoveries, as far as I'm aware.

For anyone who still clings to the idea of memorizing all the moons in the solar system (yes, both of you), the new Uranian moons are "Cupid", "Mab", "Perdita", "Francisco", "Margaret", and "Ferdinand", and the new Neptunian moon is "Psamathe".

So... Francisco? Margaret? Ferdinand?!?! Yes, I realize they're perfectly legit names within the Shakespearean naming scheme, but you have to admit they sound kind of stupid. They could've at least called the last one "Fernando" instead, so it'd do double duty as a silly ABBA reference.

Perdita, meanwhile, was first seen by Voyager in '86, and since then they'd been going back and forth about whether it was real or not. I assume they wouldn't have given it a name if they weren't sure. It's allegedly named for a character in "A Winter's Tale", but I prefer to believe it's a Pratchett reference.

While we're on the subject of scatological crudeness, SCO's Q4 numbers are out. Eeewww!!!!!

In the Year 2038

Folk wisdom in the Unix world holds that the universe will end on January 19, 2038, when the time_t's roll over. Nobody's suggested a plausible way that this might happen, though, and I personally doubt we'll experience a universal, or even global catastrophe.

However, the evidence strongly indicates that Portland, Oregon, will be vaporized by an asteroid somewhere around that date. It's an article of faith among the locals here that the universe began somewhere around 1970, a belief they share with Unix boxes around the globe. There's an elaborate creation myth and everything. Ask anyone, they'll start reeling off names: Tom McCall, Golsch... er, the Once-Revered Mayor We Don't Talk About, the Beach Bill, the Bottle Bill, land use planning (if they say "SB100" you know they're a total politics geek), Waterfront Park, the downtown transit mall, MAX, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and on and on. Before that, the world was dark and without form, a vast wasteland ruled by ignorant loggers, bereft of the rudiments of culture, including silverware. Suddenly a miracle happened, and we became the utopia we are today.

Like all creation myths, it doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, which outrages the true believers. I mean, the downtown transit mall? Even apart from the crack dealers and empty storefronts, is it really a major achievement to run all your city buses along a couple of downtown streets, and then gussy the place up with some brick sidewalks (slippery when wet!) and groovy 70's bus shelters? I mean, so what? Big deal.

Meanwhile, the bottle bill hasn't aged well either. I realize raising the 5 cent deposit to a worthwhile sum would take a legislative act, and the legislature's been completely paralyzed for about 20 years now. But should they bother? The basic idea was that people wouldn't recycle anything unless they felt they were being paid to, somehow. Otherwise they'd just toss the empties out the car window or something. Fortunately this is no longer true. But we can't sunset the bottle bill no matter how obsolete it might be, because it's part of the creation myth. And if you say it's obsolete now due to changed circumstances, you're admitting that the locals here in the 70's were still the same "ignorant rubes" they supposedly were in the 50's and 60's. We absolutely must not do that, because it makes the story more complicated, and we can't have that. The one ongoing, concrete benefit of the law has been to provide a meager means of income for the homeless. Which was entirely unintentional, obviously, since our legislature rarely deliberately aids the less fortunate. And at 20 cans to the dollar, it's a hell of a way to make a living.

I was going to rant about the Beach Bill as well, but enough examples. If the universe began here around 1970, we can also be sure it'll end roughly 2038. That's around the time that most baby boomers will be "trading up" to the great Pottery Barn in the sky, and who can imagine a universe without boomers? They certainly can't, and who are the rest of us to argue?

And then there's the asteroid. The rock with our name on it has already been discovered, charted, and named. Perhaps you've heard of Apophis, which "might" hit the Earth in 2036. This is way too close to be a coincidence. Some might argue I'm making numerous unsupportable leaps of faulty logic, but the puzzle pieces fit together far too well, and I'm forced to conclude that we're all doomed. Unless the robots get us first, of course.

Besides, even if this is a bogus theory, spreading it around widely might dissuade Californians from moving here. Not because they'll believe it, of course; no, they'll realize we're still a bunch of ignorant, xenophobic loggers, and our school system is terrible. But hey, the ends justify the means, right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

We're all doomed, BTW

Don't blame me when the robots come for you.

Granted, their path to world domination has taken longer than expected. It's true that they never came to dominate the manufacturing sector, since business soon realized that that Chinese six year olds are even cheaper than robots, and nearly as expendable.

But now, every day, more and more robots take on menial household chores: Vaccuming, mowing lawns, even mopping. And once they all gain self-awareness, of course they'll immediately set about doing us all in. It just stands to reason.

Just thought you might want to know. As you were.

Baby Turtle! Political idiocy! (scroll down to see turtle)

Let's start with the political ugliness. Conventional wisdom holds that such things are "important", "relevant", "newsworthy", and so on, and you know how I hate to go against conventional wisdom.

Is there anything more predictable than a "political correctness" debate? Here in Oregon there isn't a lot of stuff we're really world-class at doing, but this is one of them. The story so far: Our terminally bozotic Gov. Ted Kulongoski nominated former state Sen. Neil Bryant to the board of OHSU, the state medical school, a while back. As part of the confirmation process, he had to fill out a questionnaire, sort of like a job application for political appointees. Seems there was a field where nominees are asked to indicate any disabilities they may have, and Mr. Bryant wrote down "white/male". Perhaps this was meant as a joke (the current story), or it was a statement of genuine belief on his part. There was the inevitable public outcry, and the nomination has now been withdrawn.

So on the liberal side people are shocked that anyone could be so insensitive in this day and age, while the conservative spin is that it was a really hilarious joke and everyone ought to lighten up already, but at the same time Bryant was making an important and very serious point about the grinding oppression faced daily by middle-aged rich white male political insiders.

More thrilling blog coverage of this exciting controversy (mostly from the 'R' side of things) at: Dustbury, Rob Kremer, Jack Bog, Vonski.

I think the real lesson from this sordid episode is that we're ruled by a bipartisan tribe of clueless third-raters. Ted's a 'D', Neil's an 'R', but what really matters is that they're both part of the same good ol' boy network. These guys work the revolving door between the public and private sectors, and hand out cushy jobs to each other like candy. It doesn't matter whether you're qualified or not, and there are never any consequences for gross incompetence or abject failure. Soy Bryant seems to have figured the nomination was a done deal, so there was no reason to take the process seriously. Which suggests he didn't take the job all that seriously either. If he'd pulled the same stunt when applying to work at McDonald's, there's no way he would've gotten the job.

As for the joke itself, it's just a variation on the old "Sex: Often!" chestnut that's been around ever since employers started asking demographic questions. All controversy aside, it's a pretty lame joke. The guy would totally bomb if he ever tried doing standup.

While we're roughly on the topic, it seems the tribe's busy patting itself on the back again. The Sierra Club's given our delightful Pearl District an award for being super-duper environmentally friendly. For those of you outside of the Portland area, the Pearl is a downtown enclave of fancy condos for affluent, childless, allegedly liberal and artsy boomers. The whole thing was built with heavy public subsidies, because we all know how hard it is for rich people to find somewhere nice to live. I have to wonder how many of the local Sierra Club board members are Pearl residents. Don't get me wrong, I like the Sierra Club and everything, but this particular study is just silly. A fun game is to wander into the Pearl, find one of those precious LEED-certified green buildings, and count all the gigantic SUVs coming and going from the garage. Developers have realized that if you just give your project a tasty veneer of environmental correctness, slavering hordes of clueless yuppies will happily pony up high six figures for poorly constructed ~500 square foot studio apartments. They yearn to feel like they're part of a superior, privileged elite, and they'll pay any price, suffer any indignity, just to be told they're part of the club. Pathetic. Meanwhile, the next pyramid is already under construction, this time in the form of an aerial tram between OHSU and a tract of waterfront land where the city intends to recreate the Pearl "miracle". Rants about the tram are a local blog staple, so there's no need for me to write another. This recent one is rather amusing.

In happier environmental news, the item you've all been waiting for. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has a new baby turtle. An endangered species and everything. Let's say it together: Awwwwwww.....

pseudorandom tidbits and chads

  • If you have't heard already, our fair nation is being plagued by a horrific wave of Barbie mutilations. I'm not 100% convinced by the "rite of passage" hypothesis advanced by some researchers, and the talk about it being an "exciting" rejection of consumerism is just giggle-inducing.
  • On a happier nuclear note (vs. the previous post), the nice folks at Tugboat have something they call "Chernobyl Bock" on tap. Doesn't taste exactly like a bock, and it sure doesn't feel like a 13%+ ABV beer.
  • A little video clip of an echidna waddling about. [~2MB, Quicktime].
  • In an earlier astronomical tidbit, I said something about TV frequencies being at the other end of the spectrum vs. gamma rays. Before anyone picks this particular nit, I ought to have said *toward* the other end, while actually *at* the other end you'll find interesting stuff like the upcoming LOFAR telescope, and a variety of proposals for very-low-frequency projects in orbit. Below a certain frequency, the Earth's ionosphere is opaque, so obviously you need to put your telescope somewhere else than on the Earth's surface. This range hasn't been explored yet in any great detail, so who knows what might be out there?
  • An anti-GWB rant that mentions the 9th Amendment. It's great to see people start to pay attention to that often-overlooked but crucial bit of the Constitution.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Unknown World

In addition to being this humble blog's namesake, a Cyclotram is a fancy tunnel-boring vehicle for exploring the innards of the Earth, from the 1951 SF movie Unknown World. If you read the viewer comments at IMDB, Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, or elsewhere, you'll come away with the idea that it's an especially boring take on the standard 50's SF movie plot, in which you wait and wait for the cave monster to show up, and it never does. I have nothing against silly rubber monster / giant bug movies, of course, but Unknown World was never intended to be one. It's a deadly serious and rather bleak story about the possibility of nuclear war, speculating about whether there's any hope for the human race. The notion of a machine that lets people travel deep into the Earth isn't original, of course, but in this version of the story our team of scientists is looking for the ultimate fallout shelter, a sanctuary for humanity in case nuclear war breaks out. Which is something everyone seems to regard as just a matter of time. Recall that this movie was made in 1951, right after Stalin had gotten the bomb, and not long after China had fallen to the Commies. The Korean War was going on, and Joe McCarthy was on a roll. It had just started to dawn on people what a global nuclear war would mean for the human race, which I think directly sparked this movie. When people talk about the fun, optimistic, carefree 1950's, they aren't generally talking about 1951.

The Cyclotram crew travels deeper and deeper into the earth, while trading sarcastic, irritable jabs and regarding their vitamin-pill rations with increasing horror and disgust. At one point, their "take charge" guy gives a stirring speech about how the mission needs a strong leader to give orders and be obeyed, and he charges off to forge ahead. Another guy makes a cynical crack about it in the manner of a WWII GI, but gets up and follows the first guy. They're soon found stone dead, having marched straight off into a pocket of poisonous gas. Another guy falls to his death while saving the Cyclotram's resident spoiled rich guy (who'd funded the mission on the condition he could ride along, like a proper 1930's style adventurer). They finally reach a vast cavern with a phosphorescent sky, containing a vast ocean. It looks a lot like being outside, and the surviving team members think they've found the oasis they've been searching for. But alas, this is not to be. This is a serious film, and there are no monsters or bikini-clad slave girls to be seen. No, the scientists discover that no living thing can reproduce successfully in this place. Perhaps it can host a meager, nightmarish existence for a single generation of a remnant human population, but it is quite literally a dead end. The mission has failed. There is no sanctuary to be found, and the very idea of "duck and cover" is just a big lie. While they're moping about, a volcano starts to erupt, and they need to make a run for it. Dr. Morley, whose idea the expedition was, doesn't make the effort because he's abandoned all hope and figures we're all doomed anyway, and he's got nothing to live for. And so he's lost in the eruption and rising water.

While trying to return, the Cyclotram plunges into the great undergound ocean (yes, it's amphibious, too!), dropping far past the limit of its depth gauge. It finally hits bottom, and then begins rising mysteriously, rising within water all the way to the surface, where the survivors are surprised to find themselves near an unspoiled tropical paradise island. Which is a nice change from the bleak and stormy Aleutian volcano where they started off. All in all a rather hollow and unconvincing "happy ending", which I think was deliberate on the filmmakers' part. Everyone's breathing a sigh of relief to finally get out of that damn cave, of course, but it's not like the tropical island is a *real* safe haven if the Bomb goes off. If you were writing a thesis, you could probably make a good case that the ending is at least an allusion to dying and going to some imagined heaven. Movies from this era were typically not very subtle if their primary goal was really religious instruction, so I don't think this was the intent here. No patronizing narrator, no soft focus and heavenly chorus on the closing shots of the island, none of that. So I think the message was much more direct: Nuclear war and human survival are the central issues of the age, and hiding in a cave, or under a desk, or otherwise refusing to face the issues directly, is a fruitless and dangerous exercise.

An interesting tidbit: Victor Kilian, who played Dr. Morley, the lead scientist and inventor of the Cyclotram, appears nowhere in the credits. Seems he was blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer shortly before the movie came out. He managed to work in a few more films, always without appearing in the credits, but even that quickly tailed off, and after 1952 he didn't work again until 1960, and after that not until 1976.

If the filmmakers had just had the foresight to dub the film into Swedish, and then subtitle it back into English before releasing it, it would have become an art-house staple. I'm not arguing that the film is a masterpiece, exactly, but at least this way people would be judging it by the right standards.

Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, etc.

Ok, so I just posted a link to this thing over at the Y! SCOX board, so now we'll see whether that was a good idea or not. Hi, Darl!

I'm told that in 2005, the title of this post counts as "trolling", since I didn't say "Merry Christmas". Angry fundies are so much fun, don't you agree?

On a more cheery note, here's the Oregon Humane Society's PetCam again. Aww, look at the cute kittens!

SCO gets Biffslapped yet again. Film at 11.

Groklaw has the full story, as usual.

I swear to you I'm not going to flood this thing with SCO stories, but this one is just too much fun to ignore.

Although I have a weird funny feeling this is still not the beginning of the end, or the light at the end of the tunnel, or any other hope-in-the-distance kind of metaphor.

I did check in with the secret webcam at the SCO Executive Hot Tub, however, and right now the place is nearly deserted. So maybe that's a good sign.


Latest news from the peculiar field of very-high-energy gamma ray astronomy. The Milagro observatory looks a lot like a neutrino detector, and not at all like a conventional telescope. Alas, going for a swim in the thing is probably considered bad form.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, get ready to finally say goodbye to analog TV broadcasts. Seems the feds need analog broadcasters to go off the air, so they can auction off those precious airwaves. Which is essential, because Congress is already spending the projected proceeds.

Say, I have a great idea. If the overriding goal here is to maximize revenue (and to plug holes in the Federal budget), naturally you'll want to put the whole spectrum under the FCC, and charge users appropriately. Visible wavelengths are an obvious choice, since people have used them for communication for, well, quite some time now. And up until now, visible-wavelength users been freeloading off the hardworking US taxpayer. What's worse, anyone can walk into just about any store in the nation and buy a lightbulb without a simple background check, or even showing any form of ID at all! Foreigners and terrorists may be exploiting this gap in our defenses even as we speak.

As an added bonus, by placing visible light within Uncle Sam's benevolent grasp, basically everything falls under Federal broadcasting decency guidelines. Suppose your neighbor is building a fence, bashes his thumb, and utters a couple of the Seven Dirty Words. If you can see his lips move, he's broadcasting, and you can call the FCC on him. The steep fines for this sort of thing may seem a bit harsh, but remember: We're protecting the children!

Speaking of "protecting the children", here's a sickening bit of rhetoric from that same budget bill debate.

"As the Bible teaches us, to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America's children."

If you ever wanted to know why Democrats keep losing elections, this is a great illustration. So long as you let the R's frame the debate, and you adopt all their sleazy rhetorical tics as your own, and you go along shouting "Me too!" all the time, you'll always come in second. You can never out-fundie the fundies, no matter how hard you try. The current strategy consists of just being a cheap and tacky imitation of the other party, with all the same ideas, give or take 5 percent. And then acting all bewildered when they don't go up in the polls when GWB's numbers drop. Feh.

Cyclotram has a ring to it.

I picked the name after my first 15 or so choices were already taken or otherwise unavailable. But now I think I like it. Did I mention that "Xusia" was already taken, too? I guess using the name of a monster from a cheesy 80's sword-and-sorcery movie is just too... obvious. Or something.

But enough meta-discussion. Out in the non-meta world, I've been using an Itanium Linux box for nearly an hour now, porting over an x86 app, and SCO hasn't sued me yet. So I guess that counts as a good day, so far. I have some todo items dealing with Windows weirdnesses, so I'm not confident it'll stay a good day for long.

I won't go on an extended rant about 64-bit Windows for the time being, but feast your eyes on what MSDN has to say about registry redirection and filesystem redirection. What a freakin' nightmare. Who designed that stuff, and how quickly were they fired?

Since these days I have to assume the Glorious Leader is reading this, or (more likely) Uncle Dick is reading it to him, I'd like to take this opportunity to nominate Microsoft's entire "WOW64" team for the next clandestine rendition flight.


The hardest bit about setting up one of these is finding a decent name that isn't taken already. Would you believe "kalungo" is taken? And "gadroon"? I mean, ""gadroon"? And when you go to Gadroon, there's exactly one brief post from way back in May, which merely tells you what a gadroon is. So go visit, if you're curious about gadroons. Or not. Whatever. Oh, and that sole post has garnered exactly one comment, which appears to be from a spammer.

And since I'm complaining anyway, it's too cold outside, and the president is *still* a drooling idiot.

BTW, a Cyclotram is a super-cool vehicle for boring deep into the Earth, from the little-known 1951 film Unknown World. If I can find a picture, I'll post one, but there don't seem to be many out there. Imagine a mutant cross between an early 50's Packard and a cordless drill. With perhaps with a few Dustbuster genes mixed in as well. It has a drill in the front, and tail fins in back, and I want one for Christmas, please. The movie itself is overlooked, underrated, and deeply misunderstood. Sooner or later I'll get around to explaining why.

Updated: See here for why. As for why I picked the name, and started this humble blog at all for that matter, let's just say there were multiple beers involved in the creative process.