Archive for January, 2012

2012/01/24

Life after Google

(Reprinted from the secret Second Life weblog)

There’s certainly lots of turmoil within Google right now, between the clever and non-evil people who made it successful, and the “Google Plus At Any Cost, we will own the world!” people; and there’s no telling how it’ll come out.

But at the moment the g+ fanatics seem to be winning. (Even this Official Google Announcement was apparently posted only on Google+, so I can’t give a real link to it; but hopefully the URL there will continue working and pointing to the right thing.)

Over the next week, we’ll be adding support for alternate names – be they nicknames, maiden names, or names in another script – alongside your common name.

If we flag the name you intend to use, you can provide us with information to help confirm your established identity. This might include:
– References to an established identity offline in print media, news articles, etc
– Scanned official documentation, such as a driver’s license
– Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following

We’ll review the information and typically get back to you within a few days.

(Gotta love that “typically”.)

And for anyone that’s nervous about sending their driver’s license to strangers, we are assured on mashable that

Google will destroy all documentation you send them once the account verification process is complete.

Everyone who feels they need more quasi-governmental agencies in their lives, demanding proof of identity and scans of your driver’s license, and assuring you that their random employees can be trusted with your information, raise your hand…

Didn’t think so.

There are at the same time reports that in order to sign up for any Google service these days, you have to also sign up for Google+ (including, presumably, telling Google your real name, and being prepared to offer official documentation for any nicknames you might want to use); and Google’s search results are starting to return Google Plus pages even when they are by no measure the best hits, which is incredibly stupid and the techs are already telling us how to get around it.

So there are clearly two things going on:

  • The Google Plus people at Google either don’t understand Internet culture, or think that they can change it (with themselves as the central storehouse and universally trusted driving engine of that change), and
  • Someone with power at Google thinks that (unlike Wave and Buzz, which were allowed to die when it turned out no one really wanted to use them) Google Plus is so important that all of Google’s other services can be taxed to supported it, by forcing anyone wanting to sign up for those other services to also sign up for Google Plus (and, if they don’t want to sign up for Google Plus, to go off to Yahoo or someone instead), and even corrupting search, which is Google’s base offering and frankly the only thing (well, maybe webmail) that we really want from them.

Of course Google may still save itself from these people; it’s far too early to give up.

But what if they don’t? Where will our bellweathers go to escape the stupidity, leading most of us along with them? Facebook for social stuff presumably, because that’s where everyone is anyway. But who will we use for search, and for webmail? And whatever else Google does that I’ve forgotten to mention?

Maybe the best thing would be for us to fragment again, and have there be more than one Big Obvious Search Provider, and more than one Big Obvious Webmail Provider, and even more than one Big Obvious Facebook-thing, and so on. If nothing else, Google’s failure would be a lesson on the dangers of bigness and obviousness, and the arrogance that tends to come with that.

On the other hand, Google’s implosion would open a very big opportunity for someone else to come in and take its place, by doing the good stuff without the dumb mistakes. Not sure who that would be; opinions welcome. What’s Yahoo doing these days? I tend to think of them as an old company that fell into the “web portal” rathole and never really returned, but maybe there’s potential there.

I really ought to make some bold prediction here, so that if Google does implode and my prediction turns out to be right, I can prove how clever and prescient I am. :) But for the moment I will just cross my fingers and hope that someone smart and powerful over there decides that shilling Google Plus isn’t worth corrupting all of the company’s other offerings, and that Google goes back to being the good guys. ’cause I am always an optimist!

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2012/01/19

They were here just a minute ago…

So by now y’all’ve no doubt heard that Rick “Santorum” Santorum has been retconned in as the winner (or, technically, the person with the most votes recorded when a tie was declared) in the Iowa Republican Caucuses. (He is also the “anal sex and bestiality” choice of evangelical Christians in the upcoming South Carolina primary, their other choice being the “adultery and Catholicism” candidate, Newt “Newt” Gingrich. Must be so tough to be a Republican these days, Evangelical or not.)

For some reason the thing that strikes me about this is not the retconning, but the fact that they’re officially reporting a tie because in eight precincts the votes cannot somehow be found. I very much enjoyed this:

Lee County GOP Chairman Don Lucas, who had four of the noncertified precincts in his county, said he believes supporters of a candidate — he’s not sure which — took the certification form to report to the candidate how the candidate did and never brought it back.

Durn it all, eh?

We thought it would be amusing to exercise our remote telepathic abilities to determine the causes of all eight of the missing counts, so here they are:

Precinct of Little Lunkwort (Lee County): Romney supporters take the certification form, showing a narrow victory by Santorum, to show to Romney; not finding Romney around anywhere, they inadvertently shred it.

South Goshen Precinct (Lee County): Santorum supporters take the certification form, showing a narrow victory by Romney, to show to Santorum; not finding Santorum around anywhere, they inadvertently burn it to a fine ash.

Spotty Nose Precinct (Lee County): Precinct hit by giant meteor, certification form destroyed.

Precinct of the Eleven (Lee County): Dog ate it.

South Franklin Precinct (Franklin County): Caucus devolved into wild beer-party, next morning no one could remember what happened to certificate. Possibly swallowed. Or never filled out at all. Did we actually ever vote, for that matter?

Precinct Precinct (Buchanan County): Martha Lewis started to fill out the form, but her husband Pete said she was doing it all wrong and grabbed the pen, and then Jean Garvey found something in the caucus handbook that she said meant they all had to vote all over again anyway, and Martha started to cry, and Pete was yelling, and everyone sort of decided to forget the whole thing and go home.

Lucas Precinct #2 (Lucas County): Romney supporters take the certification form, showing a narrow victory by Romney, to show to Romney; SUV plummets off a cliff on the way, form destroyed.

Clarion Precinct (Wright County): Certification form dispatched to party headquarters via Pony Express; rider and form devoured by wolves en route.

Dangerous times, I tell ya, dangerous times…

2012/01/19

You might be surprised!

Today’s “Spam email in its entirety” is from one Miss Sylvia Martins, user cloudstrife3277 at a once-popular internet provider. Its entire content is:

Subject: HAPPY NEW YEAR…

You might be surprised to read this message from me

Not really all that surprised, Miss Sylvia, but thanks for your concern. And Happy New Year to you!

2012/01/18

Sullivan on Obama

If you haven’t read Andrew Sullivan’s “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics“, you should; it summarizes lots of good stuff that this administration has done, and provides lots of solid meaty evidence against spurious Republican attacks.

On criticism of the President from the left, I don’t think he does nearly as good a job. This is the kind of thing:

[H]e has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself). But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice.

Implying (without actually saying, because it would sound ridiculous) that the indefinite-detention stuff is okay, because of something entirely different and good that he did.

And on the whole “executing American citizens without trial” thing (which this administration has actually done), Sullivan says exactly nothing.

I left a comment over on the Liberal Values entry on this subject (which reprints a nice swathe of the Sullivan piece and finishes “none of these issues would be made better by having a Republican in the White House”) and I’ll post it here also for good measure:

I like a lot of what Sullivan says. But he also omits, or passes far too swiftly over.

Can we explain indefinite detention of citizens in terms of some subtle and benign “long game”, or in terms of the limitations of what a President can accomplish? If Sullivan can, it would be a great relief to hear it. But he just zips right by it, implying that it’s okay because Obama has promised not to use that blatantly unconstitutional power himself, and besides he got rid of torture, which Sullivan says is more important.

And Sullivan doesn’t even mention execution of citizens without trial, which Obama has actually *done*.

Can we explain the continued harassment and prosecution of marijuana dispensaries that are legal under their state laws, and the general continued wasting of Federal dollars on marijuana enforcement, in Sullivan’s benign terms? Maybe he can; I’d love to hear it.

Of course liberals realize that none of this means it would have been better if some Republican was President! But on the other hand Obama’s defenders have to realize that that argument is by no means an effective counterargument to any and all criticism of what he has done. I agree with Sullivan that much of the criticism is just flatly false. It would be nice if he would, on his side, acknowledge that some of it is true, and some of that is nontrivial…

One the one hand, during an election cycle it’s very tempting to want to minimize any criticism of the preferable candidate, for fear that it might lead to enough voters staying home that the other candidate wins. But if we’re talking about Long Games, we also need to realize that only through honest criticism of even the good guys, do we maximize our chances of things getting better.

2012/01/17

Who’s the chief of the BBC?

So this is a pretty cool news story:

Chinese revolt leader becomes village chief of Wukan

The leader of protests against land grabs in a southern Chinese village has been appointed its new chief.

Lin Zulian will head the new Communist Party Committee in Wukan and organise elections for a new village committee.

I mention it, though, not for its content, but because I’m wondering about that word “chief”.

Why does the BBC translate whatever word is officially used to describe this official as “chief”? In English (and perhaps this is an American thing, I dunno), “chief” has connotations of either a guy with a bone through his nose and feathers in his hair, or the guy with the cigar who runs the police or fire department (but not the whole place).

They could have rendered it as “leader” or “head” (both of which they used to refer to him elsewhere in the piece), or (given that he will “head” the Committee) presumably “Chairman” or “Chair” (although it might not be proper to refer to the “Chair” of a village).

If Wukan were a “town” or “city”, one might expect “Mayor” there, but I can buy that it’s a village in some objective sense having to do with population or something. So not using “Mayor” is perhaps understandable.

Does the BBC refer to the leader of a village in England as the “chief”? Let’s see…

Well! Searching for “english village” on the BBC site turns up a whole lot of droll and more or less nostalgic stories, but so far no mention of chiefs or mayors or anything. Perhaps villages aren’t governmental structures at all in England?

The official page about local government in the UK seems to be silent about villages, talking instead about “county and district councils” which may or may not involve mayors who may or may not have any actual powers. Searching for “village” there turns up the fact that local councils are responsible for village greens. Still nothing about village chiefs, though.

So perhaps the BBC uses “chief” for the leader of a village just because they don’t know what else to use, English villages not having leaders?

Okay, so what does a search for “village chief” on the BBC site find? Various chiefs, mostly from China, but also an indigenous Alaskan, a chief from the Ivory Coast, South Sudan, and aha Aberdeen!

Ah, wait. The one in Aberdeen is “David Beattie, chief executive of Aberdeen Sports Village“. Which is perhaps a commercial enterprise that just happens to be called a Village.

It is at least somewhat suggestive, though, that villages in non-Western places have “chiefs”, whereas the Aberdeen Sports Village has a Chief Executive. :) I’d love to see the BBC Handbook that covers this subject…

Update: The New York Times, for what it’s worth, seems to use “party boss” and “party secretary” in this piece about the same thing. The word “chief” is absent from the article.

2012/01/16

HTML5 does graphics

(Did you mean “ceylon”?)

So whenever there’s a new platform or language or framework I want to learn, and it can like draw pixel-at-a-time pictures, I write a little one-dimensional cellular automaton program for it. (The Java-applet one used to be on my work homepage, but that was apparently at least one iteration of the work homepage ago, and it’s not there anymore. Wonder what I did with that…)

I heard the other day / week / month that HTML5 had drawing stuff in it (never did do one in SVG for some reason, maybe I still should), and so I did that: here it is over on david chess dot com (I don’t think WordPress lets me write all that JavaScript, or embed it here via an iFrame or anything, so there is just a teaser image on this page here).

I am veeeeeery sleepy and not up to explaining cellular automata or meta-rules or the serendipitous exploration of logical spaces, or what the buttons actually do, or anything. I wrote down some words on the page that probably say some things.

Also you can read the source code. :D Or just click on various things…

2012/01/16

Warlocks or Accountants?

You’d think a high level Necromancer-I-mean-Warlock spell might look something like:

Awesome Demon Rats
100 Mana
1.5 seconds Cast Time
Targeted opponent is devoured by a swarm of awesome demon rats with glowing red eyes, leaving nothing but his polished bones to commemorate your bad-assedness.

but instead the spell you get at level 83 is:

Dark Intent
6% of base mana
Instant cast
You link yourself with the targeted friendly target, increasing both of your haste by 3%.

When you or the linked target gains a critical periodic damage or healing effect, the other gains increased periodic damage and healing lasting for 7 sec. You gain 3%, while the target gains 1%. Stacks up to 3 times.

Ha-cha-cha, eh? The name is great, Dark Intent, muhahaha, but… So me and some ally get 3% faster and… some other stuff… which lasts seven seconds… and is… probably good… or something…

Picturing warlocks going around with green eyeshades now!

2012/01/15

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Having said that the longer I stay away from WoW the less I miss it, I have now naturally started playing it again. :) I picked up a (human male) Warlock that I’d rolled up a long time ago, who was sitting at like level 28 or something being bored in Westfall, and looked to see what they’d done to Warlocks lately, and started leveling him, and now he’s like level 83 I think, doing Cataclysm quests and instances and stuff.

It’s been fun, I’ve been RPing him very lightly (it’s an RP server) as an Evil Necromancer type Warlock, enjoying going around drinking any souls that come to hand, consorting with demons, making diabolical (although in fact actually beneficial) alchemical potions, laughing maniacally at the Light-sucking fools RPing around the Stormwind Cathedral, and all like that.

But wow, WoW is easy these days. :)

Continuing to think how very very painful it must be to be an intelligent Republican these days, with all the anti-science and religious purity-tests and things that seem to dominate the party. Not that the Democrats are all that wonderful, but they are at least not so incredibly blatant.

Also in politics, fascinated to see the Administration coming out rather strongly against the whole SOPA/PIPA “let the music companies censor the Internet” thing. Brief speculation Twitter that maybe someone had just hacked whitehouse dot gov and put words into their mouths seems to have been unfounded!

Right now I am listening to some live music streaming in SL, with lil Dale standing at the back of the crowd swaying subtly while I do things in other windows.

Oh! Question for readers: there is an old movie, I think it is an old movie, although I’m pretty sure in color, and in this old movie there is an aspiring actress, and at one point the aspiring actress has this script that she’s going to use to audition with, and she goes over the scene with a friend or another aspiring actress or something, and it’s a relatively ordinary conflict between two people like yelling at each other, and then later in the movie she goes to actually audition the scene with some older and maybe famous and maybe slightly has-been (I’m not sure) actor, and the scene goes completely differently, still conflict between two people but this time extremely intense and passionately charged, with them snarling at each other with their lips like an inch apart, and although it’s the same words it’s amazingly different from the earlier runthrough.

So! Anyone know what movie that is? :) I have no idea. I’m pretty sure I didn’t just dream it though.

Drove the little boy up North into the colder and further-apart parts of New York, for an audition for the Music School of a College that he’s already been accepted to (we’re two and zero so far!). That was a fun little expedition; we got to stay in a Hotel because it was a bit of a drive, and the audition was in the morning, so we drove up the day before and drove back after.

We ate dinner at the Cracker Barrel next to the hotel. Cracker Barrel’s got quite a thing going there! There aren’t any very near us for some reason, but we’ve been to a few now. They’re all basically identical, they have big porches with rocking chairs and checkers sets (all for sale), and big stores inside selling all sorts of classic Old Fashioned Country stuff (did you know they still make Moon Pies and Cracker Jacks that come in cardboard boxes rather than metalized plastic bags?), and then big dining rooms with old-time ads and farm implements on the walls, and menus with lots of classic and high-calorie and not very expensive food.

(Humans were intended, I think, to eat the meals that they serve at Cracker Barrel, but only after having spent at least four hours in hard physical labor.)

I had the Chicken and Dumplin’s, the little boy had something with macaroni and cheese and shrimp, and we got the free corn muffins, and I had a Stewart’s Root Beer, and we both bought little candies in the store (malted milk balls for me, huge Smarties for him), and it all came out to just about twenty dollars.

There was snow on the sides of the road starting about halfway there, and on any cars coming from the north, but it didn’t snow on us at all. There was a detour on the way back, but we only got slightly lost. :)

Watched another episode of Buffy last night; I’m still somewhere in Season Three. Willow is extremely cute; I’m looking forward to the season where she becomes like a scary evil super-witch (although sad about the reason).

And now The Magnificent Seven is on the teevee, and I’m listening to CelticMaidenWarrior Lancaster doing a live set in SL (currently doing shoutouts to the people she recognizes in the crowd and anyone else obvious, and about to launch into “Lay Lady Lay”), and we’ve had our bagels, and I’m just sitting here relaxing. Maybe I will go make level 84 with that warlock…

2012/01/04

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Off to Florida for a memorial service for Dad at his church down here. It will be good to talk about him to more people who knew him, and to hear from people who knew him in this part of his life.

I decided to bring only the iPad, because it’s just a few days and it let me travel very very light, just my Christmas present messenger bag. Bringing the big laptop (and therefore the cooling pad) would have at least doubled the space and weight, and bringing the work laptop would probably have meant doing work, and I’m still on vacation, dagnabbit!

(I did do work email on Monday; fortunately it looks like basically nothing significant happened after I wrote the triumphant “we’re all done for the year!” email and teleported away.)

So I miss SL, and to an extent I miss WoW (although with WoW the longer I don’t play it the less I tend to miss it), and I even miss Portal (stayed up late Monday night installing it on the big laptop via Steam, and getting I think about halfway through the post-chamber-19 section; having played through it before on the playroom computer definitely helps).

But I’m catching up with Twitter and the news (How about them wacky Iowa Republican caucuses, eh?), and here I am writing in the weblog even. So that’s all good.

Fascinating to see the Twitterverse getting Verizon to back off of a new nickel-and-diming fee, just like the Bank of America one last month, and the whole splitting-up-Netflix thing (“Qwikster” lol) before that.

Keep an eye on the “Paypal forces destruction of antique violin” story; maybe the next crowd-driven policy change.

(How is that even legal? If Paypal doesn’t make the payment, presumably the object is still owned by the almost-seller, so how can they make the almost-buyer, who doesn’t own it, destroy it? Very odd…)

I need to write more sometime about my disillusion with the big-L, and to some extent the small-l, libertarians, and with Ron Paul in particular. Pains me a bit now that I once voted for him for President, although I’m not entirely unhappy with the message that I intended that to send.

Government truly is pretty bad at various things. Some of those are things that therefore the government shouldn’t do. But significant ones are ones that we need the government to do, and that therefore our only option is to have them do it, and keep a really close watch over them (over ourselves) at the same time.

Even if we take the libertarian line that the only proper role of government is to prevent force, theft, and fraud (and I’m no longer sure that I do), it turns out you still need a significantly large government, because force, theft, and fraud can be big, subtle, powerful, and very well organized. However much we might want to believe it, Sheriff Taylor isn’t going to keep either Organized Crime from terrorizing the countryside, or Big Business from polluting the water, or Wall Street from stealing billions of dollars from its customers, with just his smile and a comical deputy or two.

It’s bright and sunny and unusually cold in Florida this morning; frost on the car windows! Pretty though. I’m sitting looking out the big windows, typing with my thumbs and wondering how differently I write with this tool than with other ones. Another interesting question…

2012/01/01

New Year Update

It’s the New Year! 2012! Time to go out and buy a new Mayan calendar!

(Actually one has until December until the end of the current B’ak’tun, it seems. I wonder how Mayan Calendar vendors remember to stock up before the rush every 394 years or whatever it is.)

This year we made a mere 159 New Year dumplings (餃子, WordPress permitting), which is about the same number as in 2005, considerably more than in 2007, but significantly less than in recent years. We had somewhat more meat than dough (the kids are speaking of dumpling-meat patties), which traditionally means we will have enough food but not enough clothes in 2012, which is better than the main alternative.

Search o’ the Day: arrow in the meme. (You’re welcome!)

So I asked on “Facebook”: “How do you decide what to want?”.

Didn’t get much in the way of (substantive) answers (although I admit it’s fun that the two answers I did get were from a co-worker and a childhood friend who live on like different continents). It seems like a very important question. As questions go.

On some piece of paper somewhere, maybe not in digital form anywhere, I wrote something about some part of Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider” I think it was, about how soldiers returning from war could find the ordinary world meaningless or arbitrary; I think I wrote that this is likely because they had been in a context where they had to spend alot of time just thinking about survival, and when that need then went away they were left with only less compelling reasons for action.

So (I’m writing very stream-of-consciousness here) we can think about ascending ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where it’s more or less obvious what to do when we’re down at the Physiological level (find air, find food), and for that matter the Safety level (get further from the tigers, put up walls), and as we get higher up it becomes sort of less obvious, more arbitrary, less compelling. And if we make the mistake of thinking about what to want, rather than just wanting what’s expected, we may find nothing to speak of under our feet.

How do you decide what to want? Your ancestors all wanted to have children who would in turn have children, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be your ancestors. The intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes all wanted to pass their beliefs and attitudes down to later generations, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be the intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes.

So there’s a strong (what?) evolutionary tendency to want to have and raise children, and/or to pass one’s beliefs and attitudes down to later generations. But we don’t necessarily want to follow that evolutionary tendency. Or, we don’t have to want to follow that tendency; it’s not mandatory or required, it’s merely easy and obvious. (Easy and obvious to make that choice, that is; the actual doing of it may be hard and subtle.)

Somewhere when I was even younger :) I wrote down “the is-ought connection is choice”. And I think that’s true; choice, or the lack of choice, the slipping into the default choice. But how do you choose? How do I choose? How, especially, if one of the things that we’re choosing is the deepest basis for our own choice-making?

It seems like the choice must either be arbitrary, or (which may be the same thing) must be based on things that are so fundamental that we don’t get to choose about them however hard we might try (ingrained preferences that we can’t get beyond, or can’t want to get beyond, intrinsic tendencies that are too deep down even to represent as preferences).

So, hm. Am I an Existentialist now? :)

I think I have probably written all of this down before, and it’s not clear what there is to say about it next, or what to do beyond writing it down and mentally putting it in your pocket, for the next time it comes up. So now I’ve done that again.

Tamara de Lempicka. Just sayin’.