February 2001 Archives

community shout outs
Congrats to Lyn and Steve on their upcoming nuptials, and a hearty ‘huzzah’ to Flutterby’s third. Dan was one of the reasons I got into this crazy thing, back when the world was new and giants walked the earth.

Last but not least, Lor and I had a great time Friday at the DC Blogger Gathering; it was good to see everybody again, and to meet Missy. (Jenn, sorry we missed you — next time, look for the group of people repeating the latest ‘net catch-phrase (this time: “all your base are belong to us”) and laughing wildly.)

decss news
The DoJ is getting into the 2600 DeCSS case, on the side of the MPAA (no surprise there…) Keep an eye on this one, folks, ‘cause it’s got the potential to get real ugly.

your colon: bacterial meat market
Recent research suggests that antibiotic resistance genes are passed between bacteria in the human colon. This has been a widely discussed possibility for awhile; the fact that it happens merely reinforces the need to use antibiotics wisely and sparingly.

making the evil ‘net safe for children
Great Ghu — GWB and Tony Blair recently agreed to ‘lead a global crusade against the internet perverts who peddle child porn’. Hold on — that’s not the scary part — that comes a bit later in the story (italics mine):

The demands drawn up by leading children’s organisations - National Children’s Homes, Childline and the NSPCC - include measures to ensure that all internet users are clearly identified and closer supervision of chatrooms.

The problems involved in developing such an identification scheme in a way that it does any damn good at all (bearing in mind that the Internet is a global network) are left as an exercise for the student. Note that I’m not asking you to come up with a scheme that doesn’t infringe on the rights currently enjoyed by US and UK Internet users — because that isn’t possible. I just want an identification scheme that reduces traffic in child porn.

el nino blows
The Post’s Sunday magazine supplement had a length piece entitled Nino to the Rescue, which detailed similarities between the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore and an earlier case. In both, Scalia played a central role in defining the Court’s reading of the existing case law and its ruling on the matter at hand. Some interesting pullquotes:

One justice, most observers agreed, was the key to what the court would become — Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. In the case of Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Services v. Smith, he played the key role in transforming an obscure, small-stakes dispute over unemployment compensation into a landmark case that reversed nearly 50 years of judicial decisions and slapped tough new limits on the exercise of religious freedom.

and

Scalia became head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Ford administration. After Ford left office, Scalia went to teach at the University of Chicago Law School. One of his best-known law review articles was an attack on affirmative action and the white judges who supported it. As his central metaphor, Scalia appropriated the old joke in which the Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. “Looks like we’re in trouble, Tonto,” the masked man says. Replies his Indian sidekick, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
Scalia saw himself and other white children of immigrants as the Indian sidekicks. He felt no responsibility for the disadvantages suffered by black Americans. “My father not only never lived off the sweat of a black man’s brow, he never saw a black man until he was 21 years old,” he wrote. But liberal whites were now proposing to give black Americans jobs and educational opportunities Scalia felt properly belonged, on grounds of merit, to white ethnics like himself.
It was a bold and eloquent statement of the case against affirmative action, and it almost certainly played a role in moving Scalia into line for a judicial appointment under Reagan. Critics argued in vain that Scalia himself had been accorded educational and social privilege based at least in part on the color of his skin. And those critics — and particularly those interested in Native American rights — might have pointed out another irony. Apparently unaware or simply indifferent to the fact that his language might be offensive, Scalia had liberally larded his discussion of race and opportunity with stage-Indian dialect, complete with broken syntax and pidgin phrases like “ugh” and “ride-um west.”

Read the whole thing — it’s good.

tech reading
More things for the overburdened reading list:
Intro to PHP
The e-smith Server and Gateway: A Perl Study
Functional Programming and XML

not public transport advocacy
Personally, I take the Metro to work, so traffic isn’t usually of great concern to me. If it is to you, you might like this MapQuest page, which has links to traffic reports for tons of US cities.

recovery
If you see your sysadmin playing Verado (The First Person Shooter Game for IT Professionals), you might just want to back away…slowly.

community, part II
Got to see some new webloggers’ pictures last week: Graham looks less frantic than I expected, and Wes is just begging for some sort of Commander Data/Brent Spiner crack — but I’m restraining myself.

mildly disturbing
As proof that the ‘net has not yet been sanitized for your protection (despite continuing efforts — see above), I offer you: Top Ten Hottest Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors. What, you were expecting some sort of freaky porn thing? Get your own, ya pervs!

personal meta
Got some personal meta stuff to dump — nothing too exciting. I’m gonna throw it into the Advogato diary here in a bit, so have a look over there if you’re interested.

been busy
Or at least sleep-deprived — Lor is back on to a travel-rich schedule, and I’m having trouble adjusting to having to get up and about earlier than normal. It’ll get better soon, I think…

napster aftermath
Dan Gilmour wrapped up the Napster appeal decision the other day. My personal outlook isn’t quite as bleak as his, but I’m not sure that my solution is really going to have mass appeal. I think that it’s about time for consumers to quit playing along with the garbage the media companies are trying to pull; if you don’t like what they’re trying to do to your rights, quit paying them to do it. There are artists, good ones, that Get It; support them, and let other artists know what you’re doing, and why, and then maybe the whole enormous artifice that is the entertainment industry will crumble up. Or maybe I’m just being optimistic…

neverending learning
Here’s a CORBA tutorial, written from a bioinformatics perspective. Don’t know when I’ll have time to get to this, but it’s here when I do. Also in the ‘good learning experiences’ category, I should probably download GP and Arka and see what I can learn from the source. (If you’re too lazy to follow the link, GP is a suite of Unix-y command line utilities to manipulate nucleotide and protein sequences; Arka is a GUI front-end to GP.)

recognition
The US Naval Academy has a new endowed chair: the Robert A. Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering. Very, very appropriate.

shouldn’t it be a holo, or something?
There’s a new documentary out, profiling Willian Gibson. Sounds like it might be worth a watch, if it ends up getting any kind of distribution.

native son
Since I’m from there, and all, I’ll note that the state of Kansas reinstituted the teaching of evolution last week. I hope some people there keep paying attention, so that this doesn’t happen again in the future.

whatchaknow?
The Guardian has a quiz about the human genome up. I got a 15 out of 20, earning me:

Designer baby: stylish and sharp, you might just be the person to make use of all that’s been learnt from the genome project

(If you’re running Junkbuster, watch out — I had to disable it to get my result.)

history lesson
I’m pretty sure we weren’t taught about the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers in my American history class:

In 1927, nine prominent New York lawyers associated themselves under the intentionally-bland name, ‘Voluntary Committee of Lawyers,” declaring as their purpose ‘to preserve the spirit of the Constitution of the United States [by] bringing about the repeal of the so-called Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment.” With the modest platform they thus commanded, reinforced by their significant stature in the legal community, they undertook first to draft and promote repeal resolutions for local and state bar associations. Their success culminated with the American Bar Association calling for repeal in 1928, after scores of city and state bar associations in all regions of the country had spoken unambiguously, in words and ideas cultivated, shaped, and sharpened by the VCL.

But wait, it gets better:

Several hours after Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, while millions of Americans were celebrating, the VCL treasurer quietly balanced the books by making a final contribution from his own pocket in the amount of $6.66, and closed them permanently.

So, a group of lawyers sees a wrong, organize into a group, fix the problem (which required what can only be described as a grand political hack), and then disband. The mind boggles. All I can hope is that some group of modern-day lawyers are inspired by the example of the VCL, and decide to tackle the drug problem — which might be much more difficult, given the lack of a single target like the VCL had in the 18th Amendment.

herring breath
Berke Breathed interview, part I and part II. I shouldn’t have to say anything more than that, but for those of you that haven’t already shouted for joy and clicked with mad abandon, I’ll clue you in that Berke Breathed was the mind behind “Bloom County” and “Outland”, two comic strips whose like we’ve not yet seen again. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I pity you, because your life is surely poorer for not having seen “Bloom County”, and I’m also jealous of you, because you’ve got all those strips to read for the first time…

positive vibe

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we’re okay.
Occasionally, we as a species take a break from messing with our neighbors, screwing with the environment, and generally acting like bad-tempered three year olds coming off a crack and PCP bender. Yesterday was one of those days.

As you go through your day today, stop occasionally, and remember that you’re a member of a species that took a hunk of metal and plastic and heaved it up into the dark night, just so we could get a better look at a pebble that spins around our home. Realize that once we had our look, once we’d gotten what we came for, our monkey curiosity still wasn’t satisfied, and so we banged our hunk of metal and plastic onto the pebble, just on the off chance that we’d get another glance or two.

And it worked.

So, whatever else this day throws your way, know this: we can do powerful and wonderful things, when we set our minds to it. Why don’t we do that more often?

…all evidence to the contrary
Yah, okay, I know: I suck. That ‘frequent update’ resolution has gone right out the window, along with most of the rest of ‘em. But, to steal a phrase, “I’m trying. I’m trying real hard”. Anyway, onward…

every os sucks
If you think of yourself as even slightly geeky, you need to get over here and download the “Every OS Sucks” cut. Sure, the Barcelona “Shell Account” track was probably good for a smile or two, but this one had me laughing out loud at work on Friday. Granted, it was a bad week; nevertheless, the track is funny as hell. The “Opinion on Abortion” is pretty damn good too.

Of course, it helps that the people behind the music are Clued, as can be seen from Wes’ Digital Rant on mp3s.

fish. barrel. tacnuke.
Okay, I know I really shouldn’t be picking on GWB and all, but I’m really only pointing out the Bush Watch Top 100 Names for Bush page so that I can mention that a cow-orker has been calling him “Howdy Doody”, and that hasn’t made the list…yet.

a simple question
While we’re on GWB, I saw this story at GitM the other day. So, I have to ask, if the person the majority of the voters selected isn’t running the show, and if the person who was awarded the election by the Supreme Court isn’t running the show, who is running the show, and how did they end up in the hot seat?

define ‘unreasonable’
So, Mike questioned Lyn’s reading of the Super Bowl hidden camera thing, claiming that it wasn’t a Fourth Amendment question. I’m not a lawyer (look, ma, no horns or tail!), but I don’t think I agree. To my mind, it crosses the same border as these hi-tech drug searches.

The issue isn’t so much that the police are using these new technologies as it is that they’re using them in a surreptitious manner, and that they pretty much have to use them secretly in order for them to be effective. For example, people weren’t told about the Super Bowl surveillance, not only because it would have caused an outcry, but because criminals would have then avoided the game and the system. Police in California presumably aren’t driving around in vans labelled “Police Thermo-Detector”, because then drug producers would be able to tell when they were coming, and turn off the grow lights.

The point that I’m trying to make is that, in the past, searches that are this intrusive have been dependent on warrants, and they weren’t indiscriminately applied to large groups of people. That is, these searches aren’t equivalent to ‘plain view’ searches; they’re much more akin to phone taps. Using them without appropriate judicial oversight would seem to stomp all over the ‘reasonable’ part of the Fourth Amendment — but, like I said, I’m not a lawyer…

namespace collision
For the record, I am not this John Anderson. I do, however, have a newspaper clipping of the story in my cube at work.

common sense isn’t
Nice overview of how we should be appropriately using new technologies in the agriculture realm, and the bad things (frex, ‘mad cow’/BSE) that can and will happen when and if we don’t.

scary
Speaking of scary biological stories, I haven’t heard anything new about the Canadian woman who may have Ebola (or some other viral hemorrhagic fever) since the initial story broke early last week. I can’t decide if that’s good or bad…

celebrate with your loved ones
Today is Darwin Day. Did you get all your gift shopping done in time?

human genome news
In addition to Darwin Day, Monday is the day of human genome press conferences. Celera announced on Friday that they would be living up to the letter of their promise to make their sequence data freely available — for values of ‘free’ that involve a click-thru license agreement. This, in my not-so humble opinion, is a load of crap; I don’t know any other way to put it. I’d be fine with Celera keeping the sequence data to themselves; they paid to get it, and they should be able to attempt to recoup that investment, I guess. I’m just disgusted at this all-too-transparent attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

Additionally, the Washington Post had a nice front-page article summarizing some of the findings that are going to be announced tomorrow. Nice bit of historical background, and some interesting sounding results regarding the number of human genes, how they’re organized in the genome, and how this relates to disease.

For breaking news on the genome announcements, I recommend having a look at GenomeWeb, which should have press release-type material, as well as a bit of analysis.

Finally, Wired News has a bit of sour grapes from a Celera competitor about the real significance of their findings. Personally, I would have choose to attach their failure to really release their data (I know, I’m getting repetitive), but that’s probably not how a biotech industry person would perceive the issue…

Last link via snowdeal.org: (bio,medical)informatics

backdoor ban
Last week, when I talked about life in wartime, I was thinking of stuff like this attempt to restrict RU-486 access. This isn’t about medicine, kids, it’s all about imposing politics on the bodies of our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and lovers, and it stinks. Don’t like the drug? Don’t take the drug. But don’t block other people from using something that’s been proven safe and effective over more than a decade, here and abroad.

Link picked from Rebecca’s Pocket

rsi fear
Need a good reason to have a talk with your doctor about those occasional pains and tingles in your wrists and forearms? Read Ben Wing’s chronic pain story, where he explains how his life became hell, and how he’s made it through it:

Daily regimen for pain control:
  1. 120 mg sustained release Morphine, a strong narcotic pain reliever
  2. 130 mg sustained release Oxycodone, a strong narcotic pain reliever
  3. 10 mg Methadone, a strong narcotic pain reliever
  4. 2500 mg Neurontin, a strong neuropathic pain reliever
  5. 20 mg Ambien, a sleeping medication
  6. 1 mg Lorazepam, a sedative and sleeping medication related to valium
  7. 0.25 mg Melatonin, a sleep cycle regulator
  8. 15 mg Ritalin, a stimulant for counteracting the sedating effects of the narcotics
  9. 75 mg Zoloft, an antidepressant
  10. 3.7 gm calcium polycarbophil, a fiber laxative for counteracting the constipating effects of the narcotics.

fashion victim
I’m with Anil — cuffing your jeans went away? Geez, I cuffed my jeans on Friday, because hi-top Chuckie T’s with uncuffed jeans just look wrong.

loose ends
A while back, I promised “Major Genehack points” to the first person to explain the allusion in the review I linked to; reader Howard A. Newell wrote in a not too long after to with the correct answer that it was a reference to ‘the French disease’, as syphilis used to be known.

life in wartime
The Ashcroft nomination went through today. If you’ve read this site for very long, you’re probably aware that my personal politics lean more left than right, so you might be expecting some ranting and raving about the confirmation, but you’re not going to find it. After thinking a bit this morning, and looking over the most recent salvos in the Lyn/Dan versus Mike flame-fest, I’ve realized that I’m going to need to adopt a different strategy (or is it strategery?) for at least the next two (maybe four, or even o-boy-I-hope-not eight) years.

The Ashcroft and Norton nominations, the change in the executive order governing overseas clinics that offer abortion services, the funding of religious charities with taxpayer funds — I could rant fast, hard, loud and furious about any one or all of these. I could join protests and march in the streets, chanting slogans and displaying solidarity. I could write angry letters to my elected representatives, tell them all about how they’ve failed (once again) to adequately represent my views, and threaten righteous retribution the very next time I’m in front of a ballot box. There are tons of opportunities for me to expend time, money, and energy in response to these events, and I’m not going to take any of them.

Why? Because I think doing so will play right into the hands of the Bush administration. Because Bush was never going to nominate somebody for Attorney General who would represent any of my positions . Because Bush has clearly demonstrated his contempt for my position on abortion, and, while it’s grossly unfair to lots of people overseas, the rescinding of the executive order is a pretty minor event, and it’s likely to have minimal, if any, effect on the abortion laws in this country. Because those tax dollars aren’t mine anymore, they aren’t yours, and there are many more odious places Bush could have tried to spend them. I’ll ramp up my charitable contributions a bit, but that’s going to be the extent of my activity in that area.

My response to all of the recent actions by the Bush administration is to not rant, not rave, not fight, but instead to bide my time, lay low, conserve my energy, and pick my battles. I think the Bush administration, consciously or not, has engaged the people who hold opposing views in a rope-a-dope, encouraging them to exhaust themselves and their compatriots, to recklessly burn political capital and accumulated favors, and to gain a reputation for reflexively reacting in a negative fashion to every action of the administration.

Paranoid? You bet. Crazy? Possibly. That said, right now I’m betting that over the next six months or so, the Bush administration will continue to antagonize everybody outside of the radical right-wing. And after they’ve worn down the people who are paying attention, and convinced the sheep that the people opposing the administration are at least partially loony, then the real bad stuff is going to start to happen. For example, ifwhen McCain’s campaign finance reform bill gets pushed through, I fully expect it to be loaded down with more pork than a Hormel truck, but I also expect one or two additional measures to be stuck on the tail end, in an attempt to pass new laws that, for example, extend the DMCA, or restrict your ability to use encryption software, or chip away even further at the Fourth Amendment, or make it even easier for the FedGov to execute you. And I fear that those new laws will be passed, in silence, in the dead of night, because all the good people willing to fight against them, to scream to the heavens, to bring light into the darkness and reveal the slinking evil hiding there — all those people will be exhausted from previous pointless battles, or even worse, simply ignored because they will have earned a reputation for crying wolf at every poodle sighting.

So, for the moment, I’m laying low. I’ve got one ear to the ground, one hand on my wallet, and both eyes wide fucking open. I hope you’re the same.

but while we’re on the subject
I also realized something else: Ashcroft is far from the worst AG we could have ended up with. If you think back to the characteristics that the Bush team emphasized they were looking for in Cabinet members — primarily loyalty and an ability to follow orders — you’ll realize that the person in the AG seat isn’t important, because all the real orders will be coming from the West Wing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Bush got unsigned resignations from all the new Cabinet members, and instructed them that the first time they didn’t follow orders would be the last time they didn’t follow orders.

So, the fact that Bush decided to go with one of the more reactionary right-wingers out there is actually sort of a blessing in disguise: a more moderate AG might have lulled people into thinking Bush really was going to be a “uniter”. Having to look at Ashcroft’s ugly mug for the next little bit will be a nice reminder that the people currently in power don’t really like us and shouldn’t be trusted.

family meta
My maternal grandfather, Duane ‘Tiny’ Howard, is a former construction foreman, staunch union man, and lifelong Dem. He also happens to be a Missourian, born and bred. (Actually, I’m a Missourian by birth as well…) Anyways, Grandpa Howard sent word through my Mom that he’d asked around in Missouri, and everybody there wanted to thank us people out in DC for taking Ashcroft off their hands, and could we please try and not send him back to Missouri anytime soon, as they were getting sick and tired of his self-righteous ass. I don’t know, Grandpa, we don’t really care for him either — maybe we can get him some sort of foreign posting, or something…

#include <big_brother_crack.h>
And speaking of fights that are really worth fighting… It turns out that a biometric face recognition system was secretly deployed at the Stupor Bowl last week. That’s right, everyone who attended had their facial features scanned against a database of prior offenders. Gee, it’s convenient how most states have started storing the picture from your driver’s license electronically, too…

one point of light
Reason might be an endangered commodity in the intellectual property space, but there are still some samples of it to be found, if you look hard enough.

my other car can crush your car
Screw SUVs, I want one of these.

Spotted rampaging in the fields outside the Scary Devil Monastery.

toy lust
Seems like my Visor purchase last year might have been unwise. If I’d opted for the more expensive WinCE platform, I could be running Emacs in the palm of my hand. (Download, README)

tools for the future
At some point, I’m going to have the time to pick up XHTML, XML, XSTL, and all that good stuff. When I do, the XML Authoring Environment for Emacs will be quite useful, I think.

not of this world
The next time somebody looks at you funny and asks you what planet you’re from, look them dead in the eye and say, “Actually, I’m from interplanetary space.”

our fearless leader
Linuxplanet has a collection of Linus Torvalds quotes, mostly outtakes from the kernel development mailing list. My favorite is on this page:

If you write code that needs comments at the end of a line, your code is crap. It’s that easy. There is never a reason to comment a single line, and multi-line comments the the right of multi-line code to the left is a recipe for disaster. In short, you don’t do comments to the right of code - you do them before code.

best of breed
Congrats to the winners of the 2001 Bloggies.