February 2007

okay, maybe I will

My initial response to the vintage-pulp poster for this film was, “oh, I don’t think so”.

My second response was “well, Christina Ricci’s been looking kind of hot, recently, so I should at least watch the trailer. After all, she is in chains.”

After watching the trailer, I’ve moved to “this could be fun.”

"No thanks, I'm good."

I’m stumbling through a shodou class again, slowly learning to use my right hand to write kanji.

[Last time I spent an entire quarter producing a credible 友, this time it’s 和. I didn’t forget everything I learned in the spring, and I’d even practiced a bit, so I’ve already worked through the strokes for the left side, and next week I’ll start trying to add a nicely balanced right side to it.]

Two weeks ago, sensei was discussing nice-looking characters and compounds that some of the advanced students might want to attempt, and one of her examples was a Zen Buddhist saying commonly found at temples (Google image search will turn up lots of examples). It looks something like this:

吾唯足知 = Ware tada taru wo shiru

This is four characters, not five; the box in the center is shared by the ones around the edges, making the phrase 吾唯足知, or われただたるをしる, which can be loosely translated as “I’m content with what I have”. It’s pretty straightforward, as Zen sayings go, expressing an acceptance of the world as it is, and a lack of desire to acquire more material goods.

So where did this come from?


Google Seppuku

…where the only winning move is not to play. The game was invented in (not work-safe! not work-safe!) Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic, and goes like this:

"You use a Japanese text input tool and enter random Japanese characters into a Google Image Search. Then you count how many pages until you find an image so disturbing that you wish you'd never played the game."

For “best” results, you should of course turn off Google’s SafeSearch. I think I made it all the way to page 19 with 吾 before I found something disturbing. Perhaps the most amusing result was the final one on page 39, which leads to the home page of a perfectly innocent sundries site with the unfortunate name of MENSKIN.

On the bright side, I did find some pretty girls to ogle (1, 2).

And what could be more wholesome than this?


Dear AriZona Beverage,

Okay, I’m on your web site. I’m in your online store. I’m even in your shopping cart, preparing to make a purchase. So why are you still hitting me with animated banner ads for your products? Do I seem somehow unmotivated as a customer?

Wouldn’t it be more useful to advertise your products on other sites? Perhaps if you informed people of the full range of your product line, distributors and retailers would actually order more than the five flavors they usually stock (only two of which are drinkable).

Given the glucose tolerance, I would cheerfully drink myself to death on your Lemon Tea and Arnold Palmer, but these days I need the Splenda-sweetened stuff, which I simply can’t buy in stores. I’d really like to try it once before ordering a case from an online dealer I’ve never heard of before (like the one whose employees seem to have been recruited from a phone-sex service).


It’s amazing what you can find online these days. Like this group photo of participants in the Arnold Ross Summer Math Academy, circa 1984.

Yes, I’m in it.

Free as in "until we take it away from you"

Just to be clear, I think the “One Laptop Per Child” project is doomed to failure. That is, if the goal is “educating children”, I don’t think it’s going to produce a statistically significant improvement that justifies the expense. Perhaps that’s because all of the press accounts I’ve seen have allowed the sponsors to handwave away the quite serious issues of how they’ll be used.

To date, I have seen only one piece of software that provided significant educational value for children: Rocky’s Boots. I’m sure there have been a few others, but educational software is a tough market to succeed in commercially, and it has characteristics that make it “less than attractive” for the typical open-source developer.

Given the target demographic for OBPC, there simply won’t be a software market; they’ll get whatever open-source stuff is ported, plus whatever is commissioned by the local government educrats.

And that local government will have the power to brick each and every one of those laptops at any time (section 8.19):

We provide such a service for interested countries to enable on the laptops. It works by running, as a privileged process that cannot be disabled or terminated even by the root user, an anti-theft daemon which detects Internet access, and performs a call-home request -- no more than once a day -- to the country's anti-theft servers. In so doing, it is able to securely use NTP to set the machine RTC to the current time, and then obtain a cryptographic lease to keep running for some amount of time, e.g. 21 days. The lease duration is controlled by each country.


To address the case where a stolen machine is used as a personal computer but not connected to the Internet, the anti-theft daemon will shut down and lock the machine if its cryptographic lease ever expires. In other words, if the country operates with 21-day leases, a normal, non-stolen laptop will get the lease extended by 21 days each day it connects to the Internet. But if the machine does not connect to the Internet for 21 days, it will shut down and lock.

[Update: I just spent half an hour browsing the OLPC web site and wiki, and all I could find about the actual educational toolsmithing for the project was words to the effect of “we’re Papert-izing the world!”, which tells me precisely dick.]

Says it all, really...

I think this is the single finest example of premature optimization in existence today. From “Life with djbdns”:

The format of this datafile is documented at http://cr.yp.to/djbdns/tinydns-data.html. It looks a bit strange at first because it is not optimized to be readable by humans, but rather is optimized for parsing.

Following the link turns up this quote, which had me on the floor:

The data format is very easy for programs to edit, and reasonably easy for humans to edit, unlike the traditional zone-file format.

Yes, I think we can all agree that a colon-separated data file where whitespace is illegal and record type is indicated by a single ASCII character (+%.&=@-’^CZ:) is easy for a simple-minded program to edit. I don’t think anyone with two brain cells to rub together can agree that it’s “reasonably easy for humans to edit”.

I must confess that, between his famous Usenet debut and my first look at the daemontools package he inflicts on all users of his software, I have never been particularly open-minded as to the merits of “the DJB way”. I’ve never heard a compelling technical reason for a site to abandon Bind and Postfix, and his advocates tend to have the glassy-eyed stare of veteran kool-aid drinkers, so until recently I hadn’t even bothered to look at his data formats.

The djbdns data file format? Fucking stupid.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”