Thursday, May 30, 2002

Use your Club Card for great low prices every day!

You may have noticed the new Login link on the left menu bar. If you have a MonkeySpeak shell account (and if your browser supports
cookies and SSL encryption), you can now log in and post articles. Comments for articles still don't require accounts, and so are still open to the public.

For more information on accounts and logging in, see the About page.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Do not sleep in dumpster

[Posted by Noah:]

You can now play your old LucasArts games on Linux, DreamCast and WinCE. Not
every one works, but they've got an impressive list including the old
Monkey Island series, the Indiana Jones series, Full Throttle, Sam and Max,
and Day of the Tentacle. You still need
a copy of the game, naturally.

LucasArts wrote their games in a scripting language called SCUMM, and
the SourceForge ScummVM
project will let you play them. It's even under GPL. So dust off your
old games, or troll the
racks of someplace like Weird
. This is the kind of thing that
the original companies would never get around to, and it makes me really
believe in free software.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Keep your laws off my motherboard.

I'd like to believe that the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (which mandates copy protection in
all electronic devices) is so ridiculous that it can't possibly pass
into law. However, I'm not willing to take the chance. I've written a letter to California Senator Feinstein
(who is unfortunately one of the proponents), asking her to reconsider.
I'll also email, fax, and call her offices. I'm sending a similar letter
to Senator Boxer.

companion legislation
may soon be introduced into the House, I'm also contacting my Representative. We may soon have two bills to stop.

If you care about this issue, please contact your senators and representatives.
If you don't want to track them down yourself,
will do some of the work for you.

Friday, May 24, 2002

It <i>is</i> temporary. No, really. These aren't the droids you're looking for.

Ever since reading the
opening briefs and

amici curiae

in Eldred v. Ashcroft, as well as the infuriating
opposing brief and the
petitioner's follow-up,
I've been thinking a lot about copyrights and patents.

I find myself in overwhelming agreement with the petitioners, who hold that
the CTEA is unconstitutional. At the very least, the practice of extending
copyrights at the behest of wealthy copyright holders is frightening
beyond belief. While I'm not particularly surprised by the corruption in
this case, it still makes me ill.

It's also clear to me that the spirit of the phrase "limited Times"
in the Copyright Clause is being violated by repeated term extensions.
The arguments posed by the government basically boil down to "we have The Power, neener-neener", but they refuse to read any significance into that
phrase in the Constitution. (The "limited Times" phrase, not the "neener-neener" phrase.)

A different question has been occupying my mind, though. Whether
or not the CTEA is constitutional, one might ask the question: Is the
limited Times restriction actually a good thing? Maybe the Constitution is wrong on this point. A friend of mine suggested that there are rational arguments on both sides of the issue, so since then I've been trying to see if there really are.

The philosophy established in the constitution (and upheld by later legal precedent) is that copyrights, patents, and other forms of intellectual property aren't "natural law"--they aren't fundamental to the nature
of ideas. Ideas want to be free, and by their nature are free, but we willingly restrict that freedom so that the next generation of Palm Pilots will
be even thinner. (Well, the Framers didn't word it that way, but that's
what they meant.)

The natural freedom of information makes sense to me. As long as I keep an
idea in my head, it's mine. But the moment I communicate that idea to someone else, I've given up control. If I expect that person to do nothing
with the idea, then why did I share it with them in the first place?
It's unnatural to assume that others won't use an idea simply because
I told it to them. But that's what copyrights and patents achieve: they make it
illegal for people to act on certain information.

The limited durations of copyrights and patents underscore their artificiality: after a certain self-imposed time period, the ideas return to their
natural free state. Makes sense to me.

The primary counterargument I've heard is as follows: Invention is hard,
and when you work hard come up with an idea, and it's your idea,
it's nice to think that you could dictate how your idea is used, possibly forever. Who better to decide, after all, since it's your

Well, maybe that's nice to think, but the basis of that argument seems to be ego, rather than any aspect of Common Good. The Framers got it right when
they limited the duration of copyrights and patents. Pander to the ego
and greed of inventors temporarily, but maintain the fundamental freedom
of information by limiting the duration of that pandering.

I'm still interested to hear rational arguments on the other side, though
I can't reconstruct any myself. Any takers?

I thought only <i>I</i> had opinions.

Because Julian told me to, I've added a comment facility to MonkeySpeak. You can now add a comment to any article by clicking on the scroll next to the article, and then clicking on "Comment on this article"


Wednesday, May 22, 2002

One small step for man. One small step for mankind.

In a fit of web weeniness, I've converted MonkeySpeak to use
PHP for dynamic content and
MySQL for storage and retrieval of articles.
I haven't converted everything yet, so several sections of the site are
temporarily missing. You also can't navigate older articles,
though that will soon be back up (and better than before).

In the process, I've changed the URL structure of the site, so that every
article now has a permanent (archival) location, which is both suitable for persistent linking and search-engine friendly. The archival location can be visited by clicking on the scroll next to an article's title. (Later, these archival locations may contain more information for each
article, possibly including visitor comments.)

Yay gratuitous infrastructure!

The Corruptainment Continues!

Woo hoo! Linked from Slashdot, Rockstar Games will be releasing a follow-up to Grand Theft Auto III in October. I can't wait!

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Ooh, ooh, cross-breed it with a bottle of BBQ sauce!

I can't tell if this is real, but I fear that it is. Scientists, in their quest to eliminate all animal traits which are useless to humans, have bred a
featherless chicken.

It looks sad.

Monday, May 20, 2002


Today Slashdot linked an article describing the security threats that Yahoo! faces. Nothing new or profound, but there's one bit I find hilarious.

Because some users create bots to sign up for massive numbers of accounts, Yahoo! has considered
using bot-detection techniques, which basically ask users to perform tasks which a bot would likely be unable to perform. (The example given is typing a passphrase which is displayed in an OCR-unfriendly image.) While techniques like this can prevent automated attacks, there's nothing keeping a human from sitting down and creating accounts by hand all day. The Yahoo! scientist quoted in the article basically throws up his hands and says that you can't prevent users from creating multiple accounts.

The funny part is his proposed solution. Instead of preventing this kind of attack, take advantage of it: force the user to solve a menial math problem
which, when combined with all the other menial math problems, performs some useful distributed computing task.

Of course, this doesn't make much sense. In order for the computation to be useful, the user-supplied solutions must be verified. This verification would likely be at least as expensive as computing it yourself. So you're not really getting users to "perform distributed computation tasks" for you: you're getting them to mimic computations you've already done. Possibly useful as a bot-detection technique, but hardly useful computationally.

Funny, though.

The Wretched Demon-Picture Moves!

From Memepool, a group of Lovecraft geeks are working on an animated film version of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Not my favorite Lovecraft work by a long shot, and I haven't been able to watch their sample animation yet, but I approve of the project on general principles.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

What's Worse.

Yikes. What's Better (mentioned below) now brings up a new popup ad every time you click on a choice. This renders it completely useless. Boo.

UPDATE: I'm sorry I gave the site so little credit--What's Better is so pleasantly geeky, it seemed strange that they would accept such intrusive advertising. In fact, they pulled the plug when they found out what their advertiser was doing. It's useful again. I retract the "Boo."

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Especially in Germany.

Noah, knowing full well that I've sworn off Hasselhoff kitsch, has pointed me to a page which rates films with a system based on the Hoff.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Please don't outbid the astronauts.

The system that tests the boosters on NASA's space shuttle uses 8086 chips. Nobody makes those anymore. Thus, NASA is scavenging on the web.

Thursday, May 9, 2002

The holistic healing power of the Skittle.

Via Flutterby: In a recent study, the placebo used on control subjects
worked significantly better
than the commonly prescribed
antidepressants used on the other subjects.

Me buckles 'ave been swashed.

CNN says that the first several months of 2002 have shown a
surge in piracy
worldwide. (Piracy at sea, that is.) I know I shouldn't be surprised by this, since piracy is basically just carjacking with boats, but it still seems anachronistic.

Apples and Oranges

From Memepool, similar to Am I Hot Or Not but more generally applicable is What's better. Every time you visit, two random items come up. Pick which one you think is better, and it tells you how many people agree with your choice. It also uses your choice to generate an overall ranking of the items.

They have all sorts of items--"Network Card", "Saran Wrap", "Darth Vader Guitar", "Clean Water", "Bazooka [carrying] Groundhog". However, their ratings data is heavily skewed towards celebrities and historical figures. (I imagine their initial dataset consisted of just those.)

As a result, Adolf Hitler is the worst-rated item (followed by Osama Bin Laden and Michael Eisner). Strangely, Kirsten Dunst has the highest rating overall. I hope this is because the database is small and they have too few samples. Nothing against her, but if Kirsten Dunst is widely considered the best person/place/thing ever, I'm going to have to rethink some things.

Rot13! Rot13!

From Slashdot, Microsoft testifies that
opening up their protocols would make them more susceptible to viruses and hackers.
I know this is consistent with what they've always said, and I know it's in their best interest to claim this, but the absurdity of it almost offends me.

Have a nice day.

It just gets weirder and weirder. Lucas Helder, the confessed pipe bomber of last week, says he was planting the bombs throughout the nation in the pattern of a happy face.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

It's raining giblets!

Speaking of tornados, last night TLC had an interesting documentary on the subject. It featured impressive footage of tornados and their devastation, though that wasn't the scariest part. The scariest part was Elias Loomis (1811-1889).

In his studies of tornados, Loomis had heard the common claim that powerful tornado winds can defeather a chicken. It occured to him that, by simulating the wind conditions necessary to defeather a chicken, he could estimate the wind speeds of "powerful tornados".

It's subtle deductive reasoning like this that has made our country great.

In any case, how do you make a chicken go really fast? Launch it from a cannon, of course.

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Oh, did we say "your"? Sorry, how did that "y" get there?

This morning I stopped by my neighborhood do-it-yourself coin-op car wash, a handful of quarters in tow. When I got to the car wash, there was a new sign.

For your convenience, this machine only accepts dollar coins.

I thought, "Wow, how convenient! Do they still make dollar coins?"
Turns out they do, and a nearby machine was happy to take my last twenty in exchange for several pounds of coins. The leftover coins have since been weighing down my pockets, and I'm beginning to wish I'd worn a belt today.

I understand that they're trying to push a new standard, but why do they
have to tell me it's for my convenience? It's that "Enjoy Sprite" thing
all over again.

For your convenience, employees only speak Esperanto.

Monday, May 6, 2002

I used to think earthquakes were scarier.

On April 28th, tornados wreaked havoc in several eastern states. Most notably, an F5 tornado (possibly the biggest ever recorded in the eastern US) touched down in La Plata, Maryland, flattened much of the downtown, then ripped a 24-mile swath eastward.

On May 2, NASA released a
satellite photograph
of the tornado's path. (Check out the href="">larger version.) Route 301 is the north-south highway at the left of the image, and where 301 intersects the tornado's path is downtown La Plata.

I mention this because my parents live in that area, and my mother works several buildings south of that intersection, just on the edge of the tornado's path. Luckily, her work building is still standing, and she's fine. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for many of the
surrounding buildings

I'm moving to Peru.

I'm a big fan of open source software, and spend nearly all of my computing time in open source operating systems, using open source applications and development tools. It takes effort for me to suppress my anti-Microsoft feelings, though I recognize that much of the sentiment is unfounded, or is at least unduly influenced by the zealotry of open source proponents around me.

Despite my preference for existing open source software, I remain
skeptical of the applicability of the open source model to the industry at large. I'm always happy to see well-thought-out arguments in favor of open
source software in specific sectors, however, and (somewhat guiltily) always enjoy arguments which belittle Microsoft and its practices.

Today Slashdot posted a Peruvian Congressman's rebuttal to a Microsoft warning against open source in the government.
In addition to being a surprisingly cogent analysis of the real issues surrounding software freedom, the prose is just a pleasure to read. My compliments to the author and to the translator.