Friday, January 06, 2006

A Certain Kind of Beauty

can be found in pure, unadulteradted nonsense:

"So, the Bush Dynasty is being controlled by Cthulhu in order to destroy humanity?"

Lernout & Hauspie

A very well done Wall Street Journal Article on my old company.

And it has it's own Wiki entry (I love Wiki!)

FTR, while I've heard the SK story about Duerden and Soe from a number of people, I have never believed it. It all just happened to take place when Duerden was there and his reaction as an executive in a multibillion dollar comapny was not, "call the police" but instead was, "flee the country!". Nope. It just doesn't ring true to me.

The next year Mr. Bastiaens was out as CEO of Quarterdeck, having presided over a series of disastrous acquisitions at the company, which was taken over after its stock plunged. He quickly found a new job. He became president of L&H.

I quit in 1998 because I couldn't stand Gaston. It wasn't cultural, he was just a sleeze.


This occured to me too.

When I went to bed on Tuesday night, I had left the TV on Fox and the News was playing. I heard the phrase, "... miracle. You could feel the power of the Holy Spirit in the people and you just knew that god was walking among them." And this was a *news anchor*.

The next morning, I had girded myself for a day of putting up with angel sightings and ghost stories when I had instead heard the tragic horror of the story.

Personally, I would have put up with chatty women at the check out talking about angels and miracles if it would have saved those people's lives.

Sadly, that's not reality.

I Know This Guy!

I do. I've even been to his house and eaten Fritos Brand Corn Chips.


The Family Tradition

Geoff and I have a tradition where we stay in for a day, rent a batch of really bad movies, then spend the afternoon trying to break each other up MST3K style. Probably the high point of this was a few years ago during the infamous "Brain Eating Weekend". Somehow (somehow!) every movie we rented had brain eating somewhere in it. Flipped on the TV for cable movies... more brain eating! Sci Fi channel? Brain Eating! Fox News? Brain Eating! New commercial for Pepsi Light? Brain Eating! It was unavaoidable.

We haven't done this in a while and I'm thinking of foracbly kidnapping the boy and bringing him up here for this soon. Or at least springing for a ticket.

I've found a movie for the next one:

The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman

Meanwhile, in a bar with a large rack of postcards, Marcel and his apparent girlfriend Elvira (pronounced “El-vee-ra”) are discussing her Ph.D. project, which is about an evil Hungarian countess. You get nowhere with the review board if you do your project on an evil marquise or baroness. Countess Wandesa was a particularly evil woman, as we can see from the flashback that shows her wearing a very seventies-style updo and holding a black mass featuring a large painting of Satan with a face where his genitalia should be. Apparently she drank the blood of virgins to remain youthful, and later some lovers of hers were annoyed by this and thus stabbed her to death with a silver cross. Then they buried her with it. This will be important later.
Cut to that night, when Genevieve hears an eerie voice calling her name and promptly jumps up and runs off into the woods. She meets Wandesa at the coffin, now looking young and lovely and dressed like the love child of Morticia Adams and the Flying Nun. Wandesa nibbles her variously, which judging by Genevieve’s rapturous expression, is lots more fun than boring old sex.

The Rise (Again) of the Machine

Every few decades, a set of political operatives discover the use of the "Machine", a set of money and patronage incentives to build a political monopoly. Historically, both democrats and republicans have done this, they build and keep a majority for a period of time, corruption scandles occur, reforms are passed the machine goes away and is reinvented a few years later when the heat has dies down. It seems to be a nautral, emergent property of political systems.

In that light, there is an interesting look at the DeLay Machine over at TPM.

One of the great questions of the last decade is how congressional Republicans managed to maintain such unprecedented party discipline. The standard answer is that that's how Tom DeLay earned his nickname 'The Hammer', by squashing anyone who threatened to get out of line. Only that's not really quite how the House GOP Caucus functioned. Notwithstanding the reputation DeLay liked to cultivate, he worked a lot more with Carrots than Sticks. And that means money. Lots and lots and lots of money. A lot of it unaccountable money; a lot of it 'don't ask where it came from' money; but lots and lots of money, and as long as you were there with the caucus on the important votes, a lot of it would be yours.

Digitial Economics

Over at David Friedman's Ideas blog, he makes mention of the idea of using MMORGs as testbeds of economic theory. It's a good if common idea, and David takes it one step further than most by actually proposing a methodology:

I am an economist, so my brief examples are economic ones, but there should be opportunities in other fields as well. One respect in which the worlds represented by different servers are not quite identical is in their populations. Servers whose internal clocks are on Pacific Standard Time are populated mainly by people from the west cost of the U.S.—with an occasional Spaniard or Korean. A server on Korean time—I am told the game is very popular in Korea—will have a rather different population. That should make it possible to do extensive studies of differences and similarities in social norms across a wide range of societies—without spending a penny on airline tickets or hotels.

So far as the cost of the game is concerned, a little over a thousand dollars a year—a small fraction of any serious research budget—will buy you a hundred characters each on every server. Most of the cost of such a project would be the time of the researchers—and grad students are not very expensive. If you select them properly you may get a good deal of their time for free, since from their standpoint you are paying the cost of their recreation.

Again, it's a good idea although there are a lot of variables in play. A lot. Not the least of which is the economic models for various games are quite different For example, in the game I play, City of Heroes, there is almost no economic incentives past a certain level, resulting in high level players literally giving the money away to people they randomly meet on the street. The first time it happened to me I saw shocked, but since then I've looked at it as a flaw in the economic design of the game. The experiment design would have to be very careful, but I certainly think it's doable.

Still, this as close as I've seen in to something that might be a repeatable experiment in economics, and I hope some one tries it.

OTOH, regulation is not as far away as one might think. This I picked up from Sci Fi Weekly:

Warcraft Hammers Bad Players
lizzard, developer of the hit massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft, has suspended 18,000 accounts for violations of the game's terms of use, the GameSpot Web site reported. That amounts to roughly 200 accounts per day, the site reported. Most of the suspensions were of computer-run characters made to farm gold and items for resale in the real world. Blizzard is asking legitimate Warcraft players to report suspicious activity. VU Games recently announced that the game had reached the 5-million player level.

Which is telling them something about the design of their economy model.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

If it's in The Register, it Must Be True

Surprisingly, this matches other things that I've read internally.

It might not feel like it, but Windows suffered less security vulnerabilities than Linux and Unix during 2005.

Linux and Unix experienced more than three times as many reported security vulnerabilities than Windows, according to the mighty US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) annual year-end security index.

Windows experienced 812 reported operating system vulnerabilities for the period between January and December 2005, compared to 2,328 for Linux and Unix.
CERT found more than 500 multiple vendor vulnerabilities in Linux and Unix spanning old favorites such as denial of service and buffer overflows, while CERT recorded 88 Windows-specific holes and 44 in Internet Explorer (IE). For a complete list of vulnerabilities, you can visit the CERT site

That said, I don't believe in these kinds of number comparisons. I've said so in the past when they have been both before and against us. When I get slides from corporate that contains numbers like this, I throw them away. I don't know what these numbers are actually measuring, I don't know how they are weighted by severity and, most of all, I have no idea what the actual defect rate is across the products, so I don't know what they mean. Are the Linux numbers high becuase they just disclosed a bunch of fixes? Is it because of upgrades to sub-systems like Oracle? I just don't know.

Days at Risk is a slightly better measure, but also has a very subjective componant.

I'm not crowing about this and not sure why any actual security professional would.

Of course, that lets off the sales and marketing staffs.

Kos Illogic

Kos makes the following error in logic:

I've always thought these crazy right-wing homophobes are all closet homosexuals. I mean, who obsesses over things like these other than those struggling with inner demons? If they struggle with same-sex attractions, they figure, then so does everyone else. And that's when it becomes a "choice" blah blah blah. Not that I'm looking for evidence for my theory, but I got some anyway.

This doesn't prove that right-wing homophobes are gay, it just proves *this* right-wing homophone like oral sex with men. Generalizing to a class from a specific is a common error, too common for someone like Kos to fall into, he certainly knows better.

People are homophobic for lots of reasons, education (or lack there of), philosophical creed, fear, self-loathing, principled stands and, of course, religion. Of them all, only the fearful and religious worry me. The former because they sometimes resort to violence and while I *enjoy* the right to bear arms, I don't want to *have to* do so (a distinction often lost on adherents on both the far right and the far left). The latter because they are generally not content to leave the judgment to god but often feel it's necessary to legislate to accomplish what proselytizing cannot achieve. I think good-faith folks on the religious side are content to let god judge, since that is who the beef is with. It's the ones who see god a source of personal power which try to get the rest of us to dance to their tune.

Either way, Kos is off base here.

Like a Birthday, or a Pretty View...

I always enjoy those days when, if I'm dilligant and wade through the swamp that is the NYT Op-Ed page, I can spot an unusual, rare prize. In this case, It's a segment of David Brooks' spine.

I don't know what's more pathetic, Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too.


First, they need to hold new leadership elections. As Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber told me yesterday, Tom DeLay needs to take care of his own legal problems and give up the dream of returning as majority leader.

But Republicans need to do more than bump DeLay. They need to put the entire leadership team up for a re-vote. That's because the real problem wasn't DeLay, it was DeLayism, the whole culture that merged K Street with the Hill, and held that raising money is the most important way to contribute to the team.

David, welcome to the world of the vertibrates. Its nice to see you hold the party of your sympathy to the same standards you hold the party of your antipathy.

The Red Badge of Courage

Also from Dan Savage this week, a reader builds his street cred by publically admitting:

Before you write me off as a Fox News-watching, Wal-Mart-shopping, Bush-supporting Bible-thumper, please note that I am a liberal Democrat living in a blue-collar city in a blue state. I voted for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry. But I also try to live a Christian life. Your statements were sacrilegious. Jesus and Mary deserve a little respect.

Dukakis! Holy Crap! I wish his post had a picture with it. If I ever see this individual in public, I could then lean over conspiratorially to my friends and whisper, "Psst! That's *the* guy who voted for Dukakis!"

Dan writes the response I would have written:

I don't see how it's disrespectful, degrading, or theologically incorrect to point out that if Mary was a virgin when she conceived, and if you don't buy off on the Virgin Birth (the idea that Jesus somehow passed out of Mary's uterus and down through her vaginal canal without disturbing her hymen), then Mary's hymen broke when the Kid was born. Isn't the whole point of the Jesus Thang that He was the Word made flesh? And if Mel Gibson can portray His death in detail so gory it bordered on the pornographic, how can an aside about the mechanics of His birth be off-limits?

Dan Savage on Feeling Lonely

From this week's column:

Want someone to call you up just to talk? Get some girlfriends or stop paying off your credit cards.

World's Hardest IQ Test

I spent 9 hours yesterday going through a neuropsych exam at Uof Washington as part of my current set of diagnostic processes.

I had read about these things, but it really hadn't prepared me for the reality of just how hard parts of it are. It's a comprehensive set of cognitive tests that really tap out the limits of how far your mind can stretch in a couple of dozen ways and it's surprising how simple some of them sounds but get hard as the day wears on.

I don't get the results back until next week, and then there is a 2 hour debrief. Nonetheless, during the day a couple of things stood out to me:

I think my math and visual skills are fine, although there was some weirdness. Part of the test is draw some patterns they have you draw. The patterns start out simple, a line with 2 boxes, then get progressively more complex until they verge on Piccaso-like, abstract geometric forms. There are a little more than a dozen or so of them. Later in the day, they ask you to redraw them all from memory, as many as you can. Here's the weird part: I absolutely nailed the most complex patterns (in fact I worked the list backward from most to least complex). I utterly failed to remember the first 3 patterns. Couldn't recall them. It gets further weird because even later in the day, they show you flash cards with lots of patterns on them, and you have to pick out which ones were on the first list. I'm very sure I got 100% on that because I remembered them when I saw them, even though I could have drawn them to save my life.

They give you a set of cards in a sort of sorting game, your job is to put the right card in the right pile. You are not told the rules, only if the answer is right or wrong. Also, the rules change according to a meta rule. (they don't tell you that at first). I think I did okay on this, although I don't think I completely nailed the meta rule.

They show you a series of pictures, each representing some mathematical concept which you need to figure out, again based on feedback (in this case a door bell). It starts out very simple and gets pretty complex (and there are meta rules here as well). I was reminded of the Alistair Reynold's story Diamond Dogs, and a little grateful they were not chopping off my hands. I think I did well on this one.

They give you increasingly long strings of numbers to remember and feed back, forward, backwards etc. I petered out around 7 or 8, which I think is normal.

Okay, now for the weird, weird ones:
They tell you a story which you are to memorize and repeat back. It’s about 2 minutes long. I utterly failed at this. Utterly. I got some basic plot elements and that was about it. I was quizzed afterward and recognized all the relevant facts (at least I think I did, there was no feedback) but did not retell the story well. Okay, now here is where it gets weird. An hour later they asked me to retell the story again. Bang! I nailed it. Or, at least I did light years better than the first time. Details, plot, facts etc. Two stories, same results. Weird.

Same with lists of word associations. They would give me a list of 15 or so word pairs, e.g. elephant/glass, raccoon/paper, lizard/clown, insect/acorn (in fact, I can repeat the entire list now). They give you the list, then ask the first half, prompting for the second. Miserable failure. I couldn’t do it, try as I might (and there was a point of pride here). An hour later not only did I have the whole list but knew the 2 words the interviewer didn’t ask me. Weird.

It’s like there is something wrong with my short term memory buffer. Stuffs going in, isn’t getting lost, but isn’t available until it’s moved into medium or long term storage.

The other total failure was person/name association. I think I came close to a zero on that and was frustrated to the point of getting angry. I simply can’t remember peoples names and there doesn’t seem to be any long-term recovery effect. They are just lost.

There were other things, but it was the standard IQ stuff, arranging blocks with diagonal patterns into pictures, a spelling test (which was okay), how many words with the letter P can you name in a minute etc.

There was also a test where they blindfolded me, gave me some blocks of odd shapes and a vertical peg board and timed how quickly I could get all the pegs in the holes with my right hand, my left hand then both hands. Then they asked me to draw the board. Again, I think I did okay.

Actual, factual results come out next week Wednesday, and I’m really curious to see what, if anything is going on.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

If Mencken Were Alive and Blogging...

Oh, I have been going about this blogging thing all wrong.
This is how it should be done!

Dec. 15
Dr. Bush is convinced that his force-fed ministrations of liberty are having a salutary effect on the Iraqi body politic. Beholding the parliamentary elections, and the purple staining of 11 million fingers, he exulted, "This is a major step forward in achieving our objective, which is having a democratic Iraq." What twaddle! Democracy, especially in the hothouse atmosphere of the Holy Land, remains the art of running the circus from the monkey cage. The notion that the onetime caliphate of
Saddam Hussein will benefit from its presence is as preposterous as expecting leadership from Howard Dean, or Christian charity from Ann Coulter.

Dec. 18
Hillary Clinton continues to believe she can be elected president. Someone should disabuse the good lady of this notion. It is not La Clinton's sex that disqualifies her. On the contrary. Women possess more intelligence and common sense than their male counterparts. Rather, it is Hillary's naked ambition that will keep her from high office. Earlier this year, against every innate fiber of her left-leaning body, she effectively said that abortion is always a tragic choice. Now she has come out foursquare for a bill that would ban flag burning. If pandering were sufficient entrée for public service, Hillary would be elected handily. As it is, even the masses can spot a poseur.

The Ideas Blog

Okay, maybe I was mistaken.

I've been reading David Friedman's Ideas blog which seemed to have some interesting aspects. It does, but not in David's ideas which, at least so far, fall into a series of logical fallacies I expect from folks like Travis, but not from an actual expert.

His capital punishment argument is based on a set of emperical assumptions, none of which are backed up with evidence, e.g. mistakes are rare, killing a criminal saves lives, refering to made up or discredited data etc. He simply sidesteps or takes off the table other points which are valid but don't support his point, e.g.

I have ignored a fourth argument against the death penalty—that it doesn’t deter—since I believe the factual claim is probably false.

No, his arguments are not persuasive. However, the comments are very interesting and often offer a better insight into libertarianism than David does.

In principle, there can always be false positives in death penalty convictions. I find this flies in the face of the principle of inviolability, which I think in fact underlies much of the libertarian ethics that this country is founded upon (and rightfully so).This principle states that you have a natural right not to be imperiled, by no fault of your own. This goes even for lofty principles of "deterrence"--which, taken too far, becomes an essentially socialist concept ("We can lower the crime rate in society by making examples of people who we think committed similar crimes").

The "breaking a few eggs" side of making this justice omelette is allegedly justified because if the state is seen as waivering, the system evolves to something costly and lengthy as it is in the US now.

Personally, I think the high cost of execution is simply a type market force evaluating a human life. This is good, im my opinion, becuase it seems to set the bar currently on the side of correcting mistakes and I am unconvinced by hand waving arguments that as long as more guilty get killed than innocent thats okay. However, the calculus may chnage in the future when the planet is more crowded and the value of life is "cheaper". Historically the US has been under-populated with relatively few high density populations areas compared to Europe or Asia. If that changes, I would expect to see opinions on the death penalty start to swing the other way.

The post I'll ding here from David's blog is the one on public schools and the First Amendment. he creates a false dichotomy, i.e. teaching science is, de facto, teaching a religion because science falsifies biblical literalism.

This is nonsense. No major religion crumbled when the world was proven round or that we live in a heliocentric solar system, although some did change a little. Education, if done well, gives you tools for understanding the world. It is perfectly possible to get a really good secular education and retain one's religious and philosophical convicitions. Atheists compose a mere 4% of the overall population. By David's argument, that means only 4% of us are actually educated.

What crap. And what an insult to educated people of faith.