Friday, March 31, 2006

Ask the Man Who Knows

John Dean -- if you're old like me, you remember John Dean, White House counsel during Watergate (and imprisoned for his role in same) -- will be testifying at a Senate hearing on censuring President Bush. CNN notes:

The title of Dean's 2004 book, "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush," made his view of the administration clear even before the wiretapping program became public.
After The New York Times revealed the program in December, Dean wrote that "Bush may have outdone Nixon" and be worthy not just of censure but impeachment."Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope," Dean wrote in a column for in December. - John Dean to testify at Bush censure hearing - Mar 31, 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Cats Video

Do not, under any circumstances, have food in your mouth or any sort of drink in your hand when you watch this. You have been warned. (Sorry, Windows Media Player only. But it's worth it.)

The Hallpass Cat Show

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Stuff(ed Animals) of Nightmares

Found this via Dave Barry's blog. God. This woman is deeply, deeply sick. And I want to meet her.

Patricia Waller:Bilder

Sen. Arlen Specter on the Bush stem-cell restrictions

This item is old (July 2005). But I had to pass it along. These comments were made during a hearing on funding alternative stem-cell research methods that attempt to get around the Bush ban. None of the proposed methods for deriving new stem-cell lines had even been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Bald and gravelly-voiced from cancer treatments, Specter said the debate itself makes him angry.
"Yeah, well I am, as a matter of fact," Specter said. "Try a few chemotherapy treatments and see how you feel" watching others debate medical research funding. "The potential for stem cells has been held in abeyance much too long."
Specter said he will lift his self-imposed ban on discussing personal matters on the Senate floor and frame the debate in intimate terms — including a "long list of my medicines and my ailments."
"And I'd like to see a million-person march on the (National) Mall," Specter added. "That's an idea that has run through my chemotherapy-occupied cerebrum."

Wired News: Bush Fiddles While Specter Burns

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ozzie on Complexity

Ray Ozzie has some pithy words for those who wonder why Vista is late:

In an internal memo last October, Ray Ozzie, chief technical officer, who joined Microsoft last year, wrote, "Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges and it causes end-user and administrator frustration."

Windows Is So Slow, but Why? - New York Times

Do Not Let Me Near the Servers

So far this day, I have:

  1. Tried to leave for work.
    1. Up-ended what I thought was an empty coffee mug--not onto my bag, mind you, but inside it, where sloshed the clothes I had planned to change into after riding to work

    2. After grabbing a new change of clothes and getting the bike onto the car, looked around; no Janet, no kids. She must've walked 'em to school. Tried to stick head in door to confirm; no front door key.

    3. Drove to school to pick up Janet. No Janet. Had sudden horrid vision of kids and wife sitting at home, irretreivably late, waiting for car.

    4. Drove back home. Janet had just started walking back to school to find me. "Here, you drive", I said.

    5. Rode to work (yaay!). Tried to lock bike. Wrong key. No lockee.

  2. Seen one tiny Tomcat app on our server die. (These apps run unattended for months at a time.)
  3. Restart Tomcat. No go. Now all Tomcat apps are dead.

    1. Try to right-click to help restart apps. Trackball is dead. Probably the battery.

    2. Insert newly-charged battery. No.

    3. Look for AA cells throughout Soils basement. 9-volts. Ds. Cs. No AA.

    4. Clever Boy has backup mouse for his Mac.
      1. It has only one button.

      2. Click-and-hold doesn't work either.

    5. Ha! Insanely brilliant plan: Wire D cell in parallel with (apparently dead) AA cell
      1. This either just doesn't work, or

      2. I wired it backwards, because

      3. In 5 seconds, the AA cell gets really, really hot

    6. Muttering, I go across the street to Carson's Gulley to buy AAs with own cash
      1. They only sell 9-volts and AAAs

    7. I plunder my headlight for AAs
      1. First I check the voltage on the NiMH cells. All at 1.2-1.3.

      2. But they don't bring the trackball to life.

      3. They don't power up the blinky either

  4. I log onto server using command line
    1. Processes flee my wrath.

    2. The "kill" command is, perhaps, overused. But in a clear process table, you can see forever.

    3. Having gone through the running server processes like a Mongol horde through a daycare...

    4. I bring most of the apps up

Best. Bug Report. Ever.

Steps to Repro (much elided):

  1. Woman sets up separate Firefox profiles for herself and 5-year boyfriend.

  2. Woman decides to edit her saved-password list. Sees multiple lonely-hearts/dating/meet-up URLs in list, which somehow leaked from boyfriend's profile.

  3. Stress. Tension. Misunderstanding. Ass-kicking.

  4. [...]
  5. Wedding off. Break up with boyfriend.

How to Fix Presidential Politics

OK, that's way too ambitious. Until we have public financing of campaigns, pay-to-play will rule.
Still...wouldn't it be nice if we could do an end run around the Electoral College and all its pathologies--in particular, the marginalization of all but the "swing states"?
Oddly enough, there's a simple idea that just might work. What's really appealing is that it does not require a Constitutional amendment. It turns on the idea that the states actually control their Electoral College votes. Winner-take-all is not written into the Twelfth Amendment (here, go read it). In fact, the states can instruct their electors however they choose.
What if...the states each took the results of the national popular vote as their guide? Presidential candidates would have to campaign for the population as a whole, instead of ignoring all but the swing states.
Read more at National Popular Election of the President.
They may be wrong, they may be goofy...but it's certainly a refreshing idea.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Schneier on Data Mining

Anyone who is concerned about privacy and its erosion should read this piece by security expert--heck, the man practically defines the term--Bruce Schneier.

Data mining works best when there's a well-defined profile you're searching for, a reasonable number of attacks per year, and a low cost of false alarms. Credit card fraud is one of data mining's success stories: all credit card companies data mine their transaction databases, looking for spending patterns that indicate a stolen card. Many credit card thieves share a pattern -- purchase expensive luxury goods, purchase things that can be easily fenced, etc. -- and data mining systems can minimize the losses in many cases by shutting down the card. In addition, the cost of false alarms is only a phone call to the cardholder asking him to verify a couple of purchases. The cardholders don't even resent these phone calls -- as long as they're infrequent -- so the cost is just a few minutes of operator time.

Terrorist plots are different. There is no well-defined profile, and attacks are very rare. Taken together, these facts mean that data mining systems won't uncover any terrorist plots until they are very accurate, and that even very accurate systems will be so flooded with false alarms that they will be useless.

In Re "The Imminent Death of Developer Magazines"

This is in response to a posting on Larry O'Brien's Knowing.NET blog, in which he discusses the decline of dead-trees magazines aimed at software developers, theorizing that the reason these mags are getting blind-sided by the Web is that they're all put together by "old folk" like Larry. He observes that he only feels old when he plays Ultimate Frisbee. Still, since he's five years younger than me...ouch.

This started out as a comment posted on his blog, but as it accumulated enough mass to bend the orbits of comets, I finally decided to just post it here instead.

At least you *can* play Ultimate Frisbee, Larry.

Then again, I'm still snowboarding at 47--on the white linoleum we Midwesterners call "snow"--so I guess I'm not complaining. (Except when I sit wrong on my putatively-broken tailbone. Ow ow ow.)

I had never seen Code magazine until I picked up a couple of issues at SD West last week.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Maybe I was just depressed (the announcement of SD's demise, the Benny Hill nurselets that the PR firm used to hawk the new DDJ, whatever). But when I tried to read a few articles in Code, I wound up tossing it aside. "Maybe it was just that one issue", I repented. "Here, let's go through this other one, maybe the editors just had an off week." Two minutes later, there was a fluttering thump as that one hit the wall of my hotel room, too.

There may have been some good stuff in there, but I couldn't make myself wade through enough of the extraneous goo and tortured sentence construction to find it.

Yeah. Me, the Goo-Meister, complaining about extraneous goo. (The code itself wasn't bad. But the English supporting it was just awful.)

Perhaps you have put your finger on the reason why SD had "a feeling of discovery" for me, at least from, say, 1998-2003. (OK, partly it may have been the feeling of discovery that I could harvest some cash by writing for it.) But certainly Alexa, Tami, and Laurie were never convinced they knew everything, because frankly they didn't. Alexa bulled her way (as in "strong like a bull", not as in "bullshitted") her way to at least beta-geek status on sheer chutzpah, a pretty damned good team of technical advisors (such as yourself, if I may be permitted to say so), and ravening intellectual curiosity. Laurie wrote some really solid features, despite her self-proclaimed ignorance of matters technical. No, they weren't technically deep articles, but she did her homework and turned in good, thought-provoking stuff. And Tami saved my ass numerous times, just by applying her formidable logical talents to the words on the page. To say nothing of untwisting the kinks of my logorrheic torrent.

The worst thing about content on the Web is that it's not going to have people like this looking at it before it goes up. More Code, less SD. I know of very few people who actually take the time, or have the talent, to write clearly and succinctly about technical issues without heavy editorial support. I read these blogs, and eschew the others.

It's the Wal-Mart tragedy of our times in yet another medium. The new model is almost as good, and it's quite a bit cheaper. So let's dive for it, swimming hell-bent in a race for the bottom. I know that the canonical answer is a sort of "publicational Darwinism": Publish 'em all, and let God sort 'em out. But it's so easy to publish on the Web that there's very little incentive to achieve that extra polish in the first place.

Perhaps nobody cares but me, and the aforementioned few craftsmen who can write to my reading standards. In that case, be damned to the rest of 'em, and I'll just be an old crank. Language matters!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kafka Lives: Guantánamo Bay Documents Released

An FOIA lawsuit from the Associated Press led to the release of more than 5,000 pages of documents related to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay:

But a reading of the voluminous files adds texture to the accusations that the men face and the way they have tried to respond to them. It also underscores the considerable difficulties that both the military and the detainees appear to have had in wrestling with the often thin or conflicting evidence involved.At one review hearing last year, an Afghan referred to by the single name Muhibullah denied accusations that he was either the former Taliban governor of Shibarghan Province or had worked for the governor. The solution to his case should have been simple, Mr. Muhibullah suggested to the three American officers reviewing his case: They should contact the Shibarghan governor and ask him.But the presiding Marine Corps colonel said it was really up to the detainee to try to contact the governor. Assuming that the annual review board denied his petition for freedom, noted the officer, whose name was censored from the document, Mr. Muhibullah would have a year to do so."How do I find the governor of Shibarghan or anybody?" the detainee asked."Write to them," the presiding officer responded. "We know that it is difficult but you need to do your best.""I appreciate your suggestion, but it is not that easy," Mr. Muhibullah said.

Voices Baffled, Brash and Irate in Guantánamo - New York Times

Five Spits re-enact maiden 1936 flight

Five Spitfires have taken part in a re-enactment of the first test flight - 70 years after the planes first took to the skies.Thousands turned up to watch as the Southampton-built fighter planes took off from the airport and flew in formation over the city.Aboard one of them was Alex Henshaw, 93, the chief test pilot during WWII.Mr Henshaw, from Newmarket, Suffolk, said he had flown his first "Spit" from Eastleigh on his birthday in 1939.Before taking off he said: "For me this is really full circle as I first flew the Spitfire from Eastleigh on my birthday in November 1939 and this is the last time I will go up in one so it's very nostalgic."

BBC NEWS | England | Hampshire | Spitfire maiden flight re-enacted