Blog: 2003-02

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Hey, it beats duct tape:

"They have to dig trenches in their gardens" in case of war, the Iraqi News Agency quoted Mr. Hussein as saying. "Tell every citizen to go with his family to the trenches during raids, so that even if a shell falls on their house, God forbid, a deep trench will protect them."

—"Iraq prepares for its defense," Christian Science Monitor, 28-Feb-2003

Top Google hits for "commandments"

Watched Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue parts 1 through 6. Comments reserved til I view the DVD with parts 7 through 10. Recommended rental, but I wouldn't spend $190-$215 on it.

Another way that McDonald's fries are delicious hot salted death:

Fast-food French fries showed the highest levels of [carcinogen] acrylamide among the foods CSPI had tested, with large orders containing 39 to 82 micrograms.

—Center for Science in the Public Interest, "New Tests Confirm Acrylamide in American Foods," 25-Jun-2002

Released HtmlPrag 0.5, which contains a few portability improvements, bringing to 13 the number of tested Scheme implementations.

Periodic update of my Privoxy actions file. See also Ben Gross' Filtering Information Streams page.

From PGN's Risks Digest 22.59 summary of an LA Times article (I gave up on the LA Times registration process after five minutes, so I'll quote Risks):

Noted deep in the White House's proposed FY2004 budget, the administration is proposing to exempt the Pentagon's controversial national missile defense system from operational testing legally required of every new weapons system in order to deploy it by 2004.

The attempt to deploy an untested anti-missile system is particularly interesting in light of the earlier allegedly falsified anti-missile system test.

When an acquaintance worked for VoteHere awhile back, I hassled him a bit about their ridiculous unauditable voting technology. The White House and CIA connections are standard conspiracy theory fodder:

Spillane says in his lawsuit that he reported over 250 issues in the VoteHere voting system, including critical errors that can prevent the machines from correctly registering the votes, or working efficiently on election day. He sought meetings with company officials to express concerns about integrity flaws, which he says led to his firing. [...] VoteHere's board of directors includes former CIA director Robert Gates. VoteHere's Chairman is Admiral Bill Owens, who was senior military assistant to Secretaries of Defense Frank Carlucci and Dick Cheney, [...]

—, "Voting Machine Engineer Sues, Alleges Machine Design Flaws," 25-Feb-2003

I have a vivid memory of Sam Adams telling me at the time [1967] of a comment made to him by one of the most senior CIA officials. "Have we gone beyond the bounds of reasonable dishonesty?" he asked.

—Ray McGovern, "George Tenet Caves In," CounterPunch, 13-Feb-2003

Point your friends who don't understand the Democrats' objections to Estrada's nomination, to this plain-language article:

But if Bush succeeds in filling every open seat, some of them vacant because Clinton nominees were blocked, 11 of the 13 circuits will have Republican-appointed majorities. In eight of the 13, Republican nominees would have majorities of 2 to 1 or more. Is that a formula for careful, balanced decision-making?

—E.J. Dionne Jr., "They Started It," Washington Post, 21-Feb-2003

Amusing because it's coming from someone at General Motors:

As Mr. Fosgard of G.M. put it only half-jokingly: "I don't want to say that this car will eliminate war, but we might not have wars for energy anymore. We'd have to find different reasons to go to war."

—Nicholas D. Kristof, "Our New Hydrogen Bomb," New York Times, 21-Feb-2003

BTW, I wouldn't refer to an alternative-energy vehicle as a "bomb" before it's been tested by the market.

The University of Edinburgh is requesting donations of books and reports to rebuild its AI Library collections, some of which were lost in a fire in December.

A reference to Integrity RTOS on IRC today:

integrity is royalty free, but i think there are startup costs

Released a PLT package of HtmlPrag. The portable htmlprag.scm continues to be the canonical version — the PLT packaging is simply generated. I may package for some other implementation, perhaps Bigloo, if I get time and anyone requests. Most of my other Scheme libraries will probably be PLT-specific, but there was no good reason to make HtmlPrag PLT-specific, and I wanted it to be accessible to all the users of the portable SSAX/SXML tools.

Yale grad students: "GESO members vote to strike," Yale Daily News, 20-Feb-2003

One difficulty that I think graduate students forming a collective bargaining unit at elite universities might have is that many of the students do not actually need a union, by virtue of having influential parents. No professor, dean, or president wants to dismiss a legitimate grievance by a grad student, only to be called up by one of their peers or benefactors, demanding, "What the hell kind of shop are you running over there, Bob?"

Released HtmlPrag version 0.4, which adds MIT Scheme and Gauche to its list of tested implementations. It also handles apostrophe-quoted attributes now, which was requested by someone who needs to process Microsoft-generated ostensibly XHTML files that aren't actually valid XHTML and therefore cannot be parsed with an XML parser.

Lots of great snow accumulation early this morning. Through the window spotted the punishment meted out by the snowplows upon a taxi-driver neighbor who had parked on the snow emergency artery. That may be the same cab as in the rainbow shot from 9-Dec-2001.

Debian packaging of teTeX 2.0 seems to have a few showstopper issues. Spent a couple hours this morning diagnosing them before deciding I didn't have time for this. Backed out to a teTeX from Dec-2001.

Tropical Convenience

Jonathan Schell, "The Case Against the War," The Nation, 13-Feb-2003

On Saturday, news anchors on Fox described the demonstrators in New York as "the usual protesters" or "serial protesters." CNN wasn't quite so dismissive, but on Sunday morning the headline on the network's Web site read "Antiwar rallies delight Iraq," and the accompanying picture showed marchers in Baghdad, not London or New York.

—Paul Krugman, "Behind the Great Divide," New York Times, 18-Feb-2003

The stopgap $10 switch from MicroCenter ($40 - $5 instant rebate - $25 mail-in rebate) isn't as pretty as the self-immolating Netgear FS105, but it's a lot smaller. There's something suspect about a 10/100 switch called "GigaFast," but if it's still switching when the Netgear warranty replacement arrives, I may just sell the Netgear.

"Obviously, I think there's been some political belittling of duct tape."

—"Ridge defends 'duct tape' tip," Chicago Tribune, 14-Feb-2003

MIT community members: Chomsky and Jennifer Harbury talk, Human-Rights Law in the Americas: Enforcement & Evasion, next Tuesday in 26-100.

I think Chomsky frustrates many people — because one doesn't believe what he says, because one does believe, or because one needs to do a lot of work to determine to which of the above two categories of frustration one should subscribe.

ne.general thread on the Cambridge Community TV sidewalk cam.

Even as the nation braces for more terrorist murders, a Republican-led Congress absolutely refuses to give carte blanche to a Republican war president to treat all citizens as suspects.

—William Safire, "Privacy Invasion Curtailed," New York Times, 13-Feb-2003

On a tangent, I'd be a little surprised to hear that Safire writes the slogan "war on terror" without flinching. wants $80 to deliver a dozen roses. For long-distance flower-sending, at least in the US and Canada, Googling for a florist in the same town as the recipient seems like a good way to deny a price-gouging middleman their cut. I also once had moderate success sending flowers in South America via Interflora/Fleurop. But, really, if one is sending Valentines long-distance, something seems suboptimal.

Curiously, removed a story, "AP: U.S. had information suggesting OKC attack before McVeigh struck," from their site, replacing the story page's HTML with a single linefeed character. I only noticed it because I saw the headline link disappear from their main page. Probably a version of this AP story dated 11-Feb 3:56pm ET and 11-Feb 9:12pm. A major news outlet pulling a story after it's been published is not good.

Quick attempt at MIT Scheme portability of HtmlPrag while waiting for a call back. Chris Hanson gave me the API equivalences for SRFI-6 (and said he'll make them standard in 7.7.2). Test suite partly runs, but there's at least two spots where the non-R5RS #f=() bites us. Fixing those spots is on my list of quickie tasks to do when I can't do real work.

Updated SICP in Texinfo Format, to fix an ASCII-art equation error spotted by Steve VanDevender on 19-Jan and to link to the SICP video lectures.

I continue to receive unsolicited emails on a daily basis from women with charming-sounding names who, disconcertingly, have come to believe that my hardware could use the extension offered by pills obtainable through the Internet. I try to take this in the constructive spirit in which it was surely intended, but I have to wonder who has been saying what, exactly. Sometimes the women alternatively suggest that my printer could use an ink refill, which is preferrable, although I don't have a printer.

Several interesting bits in this article:

Bush, in a strikingly religious address even for a president long comfortable with such speech, cast the full range of his agenda — foreign, domestic and economic — in spiritual terms.

—Dana Milbank, "Bush Delivers Religious Address," Washington Post, 20-Feb-2003

Religious zealotry has no place in national policy, nor should it be advocated by someone acting in the capacity of President. I've not noticed anyone telling the White House "no", but quite a lot of people (including the Christian Coalition) are giving an emphatic "yes." My own values-based interpretation: this is how the most "evil" historical things happen., so long as it doesn't turn into an "edgy" Pepsi campaign gimmick.

Accidentally reading Kafka, and find I have immediate application for the term Kafkaesque. Shall endeavor not to overuse it.

Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind, but I didn't see much point to Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us. Reading the few sentences of copy on the box afterwards told more of the story than the two-hour film did.

I suppose it could work.

You're a Throw Pillow, Charlie Brown

64MB RAM upgrade for the laptop arrived, and unfortunately seems to be DOA.


One of every four new vehicles sold last year was an S.U.V., said Jeff Schuster, director of North American forecasting for J. D. Power and Associates. 3,977,864 in all. Even with the economy slumping, he said, that number is expected to rise to about 4.15 million this year.

—"Among California S.U.V. Owners, a Bit of Guilt in a New 'Anti' Effort," New York Times, 6-Feb-2003

Released HtmlPrag 0.3, which includes a test suite, and has tested successfully under five popular Scheme implementations.

LAN switch died this morning (appears the wallwart transformer suddenly went out of spec, and probably subsequently cooked the chipset). Replacement may be an all-in-one wireless gateway router, if I can find a good deal quickly.

Haven't yet found a good enough deal on a used ThinkPad X-series, so invested $14.80 in a 64MB SODIMM that (if it's not DOA) will max out the old laptop at 80MB.

Tucked into the wallet of a man whose family long ago made a fortune in the automobile industry is a photocopy of a letter sent by his great-grandfather to his great-great-grandfather: "Dear Father," the letter begins, "I hate to think we are putting troubles on your shoulders. We'll hang in there like grim death. We've got grit if we don't have sense." The book has precious few stories of people with grit, and even fewer stories of people whose lives are shaped around obligation and duty of the kind suggested by that short note. If these dithering, whimpering neurotics would stop thinking of work as a path to ultimate personal reward, if they would pick something they believed in and then "hang on like grim death," they might actually amount to something.

Caitlin Flanagan's review of Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My Life?

Bronson totally missed the perfect title for his dotcom goldrush 'careers' book: What Color Is Your Aeron?

Wanted to craft a DrScheme language that was R5RS plus specific SRFIs, for using DrScheme's tools to develop portable Scheme code. Matthew Flatt pointed out that SRFIs could be loaded as Teachpacks. Teachpack was easy:

(module srfi-6 mzscheme
  (provide open-input-string open-output-string get-output-string))

The spelling corrector is far from the worst of Ebay's usability offenses.

A Common Lisp colleague mentioned Oleg Kiselyov's (languages and software engineering, Naval Postgraduate School) writeup on ILC 2002 was notably good. For example, it looks like a former Media Lab colleague's plugging of a dotcom's product was unpersuasive:

This talk left several people puzzled: at first the author said he wanted to use XML because it's popular, and Lisp because it's a good language. He ended up using neither. [...] My overall impression from that talk is disappointment: I thought people at MIT media lab can design better languages than I do.

I hope Oleg knows that there is a broad diversity of people at the Media Lab, including some who are talented and skilled designers. The long leashes that are supposed to let people tackle unconventional ideas at the Media Lab sometimes let people do naive or improper things.

Before I left my PhD slot at Brown University to go to the Media Lab, with the intention of doing my PhD work there on software agents, I was cautioned by several CS professors about the Media Lab's mixed reputation. I was also warned that a Media Lab degree, as opposed to one from a reputable CS department doing comparable work, would hurt my chances for a CS professorship. The general advice was to be skeptical of the work I saw at the Media Lab, and to make sure that I did good research. Once there, I found it best to keep an open mind about other students' work — demos that seemed frivolous often had solid ideas underlying them, and the students were generally very intelligent and well-meaning. Some of the faculty were similarly good. Of course, when a Media Lab person presents work to external academic communities, they have to play by academia's rules of research and conduct. The long leashes of the Media Lab do not reach very far beyond 20 Ames St.

HtmlPrag version 0.2 should be portable with R5RS, SRFI 6, and SRFI 23. Still preview release; plan is for 0.3 to have a regression test suite.

Sometimes, a man must accept his duty to fight the good fight.

An odd pipe hanging out over the sidewalk.

Saw Mikheil Kalatozishvili's (Mikhail Kalatozov) I Am Cuba. Unrelenting ideological message with masterful cinematography. A scene at a drive-in features a propaganda newsreel that's utterly ridiculous by comparison. Only complaint was with the audio editing for the first half hour or so: the English-dubbed dialogue was mercifully brief, but the dubbed singing was painful.

Earlier to... 2003-01

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