do not adjust your browser >>> I’m back. Personal stuff at the end; gonna try to work off my link backlog first.

maybe i am a gun >>> Holiday thought: Lor and I watched A Christmas Story (the “You’ll shoot your eye out” movie) the other day. The past five or six years, various broadcast networks have been flogging the hell out of this story during the holiday season — this year, for instance, TNT showed it continuously for 24 hours. After watching it this year, I realized that it’s really a story about a father buying his son a gun — no wonder it seems so all-American…

do you want to play a game? >>> Morbus drops some thoughts about developing on-line games. Not something I’ve given much thought to, but the points he makes are good.

there’s so much beauty in the world >>> On the list of things I’d buy if I had the scratch: a print of this Nerve photo-of-the-day.

Prude alert: There’s a breast or two behind that link.

save society; encrypt email >>> Fascinating, mind-blowing interview with Eben Moglen, Columbia Law prof and general counsel to the GNU. I tried to find a decent pull-quote, but there’s so many:

MOGLEN: No. What we have here are two different structures of the distribution of cultural product. You have a set of people whose fundamental belief is that cultural products are best distributed when they are owned, and they are attempting to construct a leak proof pipe from production studio to eardrum or eyeball of the consumer. Their goal is to construct a piping system that allows them to distribute completely dephysicalized cultural entities which have zero marginal cost and which in a competitive economy would therefore be priced at zero, but they wish to distribute them at non-zero prices. In the ideal world, they would distribute them at the same prices they get for physical objects which cost a lot of money to make, move and sell, and they would become ferociously profitable. They are prepared to give on price, but at every turn, as with the VCR at the beginning of the last epoch, their principle is any ability of this content to escape their control will bring about the end of civilization.

The interview traverses all over the place, from GPG/PGP to DeCSS to content control and redistribution to how we could have a broadband network with ‘birthright bandwidth’ much like the interstate highway system. Go, read this, and think about how you could you help. Mail me your ideas (encrypted, natch).

PS: Really good for those of you who might be bumming over the election fallout…

obligations >>> Ack! I’m teaching a Perl class in a week and a half! Things I should look at: Picking Up Perl, Edition 0.11, A Freely Redistributable Perl Tutorial Book and the Netizen training materials.

license wonking >>> If you care about this, you probably already knew, but just in case: Newsforge had a preview of the forthcoming revision (v3) of the GNU General Public License.

umm, beer >>> The Post had a winter beer review last week. That reminds me, I need to make a beer store run before the festivities this weekend…

ya emacs21 review >>> This one at LinuxPlanet. Notable because the author actually tracked down the source, built it, and played with it a bit. (Also notable because it completely fails to mention XEmacs.)

blood in the water? >>> How desperate is Network Solutions getting that they need to try something like this? I suppose I should start looking into moving genehack.org to a more reasonable registrar; I expire in September.

strange attractor >>> Things I did not know: There is but one degree of separation between myself and Tom West, central figure of Soul of a New Machine.

yet more stuff to read >>> Paul’s Linux RDBMS Library:

This site is a compilation of the best free online readings about relational databases on Linux. If you’re a Linux RDBMS/database administrator, a database designer/developer, or simply a Linux user with database ambitions, you’ll find links to valuable resources here: articles, papers, and books on various aspects of relational database management. Needless to say, much of this material is more or less applicable to other (UNIX) environments, too.

beaten to the punch >>> In the aftermath of the amihotornot.com blow-up, I had an idea based on the classical definition of pornography: “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it”. The basic concept was to have a mix of porn and non-porn images (contributed by users) which would be rated on a porn to not-porn scale by whoever wanted to play. Eventually, after the thing had run for awhile, the results (this picture is porn, this is art, this is crap) would be fed into some sort of expert system that could then generalize rules for discerning whether a particular image was pornographic or not. I guess in some sense I’d be gaining some bad karma for helping to develop such a thing, because if it was successful, it would lead to wider adoption of net filters. However, it looks like some places are going to get those, like it or not, so it would be nice if they were at least effective.

Unfortunately, it’s all for naught, cuz somebody else has the obvious domain name, and they’re doing the obvious thing with it (i.e., don’t click that link if you’re at work).

ya gotta love somebody who attempts to be definitive >>> On my ever-growing TODO list: setting up all the keyboards in my life according to this manifesto (scroll down a bit). Explains some of the mysteries behind the differences between BackSpace and Delete (and how to fix them), and doesn’t pull a lot of punches:

We type 8-bit characters with the Compose key: this is the universal method for typing 8-bit characters of any character set. National keyboards can burn in hell. Everyone should use american QWERTY. I have suffered enough from these AZERTY stupidities (which don’t even have all the necessary keys to type French correctly on them, actually).

(Italics, spelling, and capitalization as in original.)

Also on the list: figuring out if I should use XHTML and reading about XML and relational databases in Perl, which could impact BOP development at some future point.

yet another meeting >>> DIMACS Workshop on Whole Genome Comparison. Don’t think I’ll make this one, but you never know — it’s close to home, and it’s pretty cheap.

you are what you eat >>> Dru Oja Jay passed along a pointer to a Monkeyfist interview with Ann Clark, a plant argiculturalist and critic of the idea of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as foodstuffs. Some interesting points get made; some I agree with, some I could quibble about (but won’t), and some I don’t have enough data to have an opinion about.

I agree with Clark’s points about corporate funding of academic research and about the ‘owning’ of genes. I also found the comparison between GMO release into a ecosystem and the introduction of an ‘exotic invader’ into an ecosystem to be intriguing. People sometimes have trouble understanding some of the risks, but the ability to break it down to a comparison between the English swallow and kudzu is a useful way to clue them in.

One of the quibble-able points I have is where Clark says the genes don’t act alone. That’s not strictly true — many genes do have extensive effects when they are the sole introduced change in an organism. She might have meant to say that genes don’t act in a vacuum — that there are many other factors which need to be absent, or present in the right amount or at the right time in order for the introduced gene to have an effect, but that’s not really the same thing.

I still think the best reason against patenting genes is due to the lack of actual discovery. Sequencing a stretch of DNA doesn’t really involve any creative work; figuring out the function of the protein encoded by that DNA does take a bit of work, but it’s mostly formulaic. The real creative step, and one that’s essential for any commercial application, is in the development of a large-scale purification process for the protein. That process you should be able to patent.

Finally, the thing I don’t have enough data to really argue about is with regard to the comparison between organic farming and large-scale commercial agriculture. When asked “Is organic farming a viable alternative to extensive industrial farming on a large scale?”, Clark replied “Yes, unquestionably.”. On the face of it, that’s a bit hard for me to swallow, and so I’d really like to see some data or citations to back up that claim. The part that I’m really finding difficult to believe is that organic farming would be competitive on a person-hours worked per people feed per unit time level versus large-scale agriculture as currently practiced. However, she’s the agriculture person; I’m just somebody who knows a bit of molecular biology.

(Oh yah, since I haven’t put it in the footer yet: the above opinions are mine, and don’t represent how NCBI, NIH, the FedGov, Clinton, Gore, Bush (either one), or my mom feel about anything. So there.)

personal stuff >>> Survived the meeting I went to. Not going to talk about that too much, as I’m writing a review of it — I’ll post a link when that’s up.

Survived Xmas. Still have to do a bit of gift purchasing, for the parents and Dave, my gradual school buddy.

Did okay in the personal swag department. My home box got the RAM upgrade I mentioned earlier, as well as a Voodoo3 3000 (impulse purchase at Best Buy ‘cuz it was cheap). Lor and I gave ourselves a TiVo. Everything everybody says about these things is true — they’re fantastic, and if you watch more than five or ten hours of television a week, you should probably look into getting one. It’s also making our cable bill seem a bit more palatable too, because we’re watching many more movies than we would have before.

Other than that, it’s been mostly recovery-oriented activities around here — a bit of reading, a bit of holiday partying, a bit of work on BOP, a moderate amount of TiVo-ing, and a lot of sleeping. Hope yours has been the same.

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