Tom e-journal

Tommyjournal  archive    April 2007

The weather was lousy here this morning but great in the afternoon.

Coincidentally, the same was true of my overall condition. I felt lousy in the morning, but everything changed when I went climbing in the afternoon. I felt better physically and got some things settled (emotionally) that had been nagging at me.

And. Dinosaur Comics was so great today. The line "this is an extremely canonical use of foreshadowing" cracked me up.

I spent much of the afternoon today swapping out hardware and reinstalling software after a hard drive in my computer failed this morning. Nothing went well, long story. At least I had backups, otherwise I'd be considerably less happy.

I tell you, sysadmins earn their pay. Replacing hardware and installing/configuring OSes isn't my idea of a good time--and I have a little bit of a taste for pain.

As is customary after a hard drive failure, I took the drive apart to get the magnets out of it. You can hold some heavy stuff on a refrigerator door with one of those puppies.

Yet another instance of (no doubt soon to be expunged) Wikipedia mischief, this time in the Lemur article:
lemurs are half duck and 3/4 skunk and they are 1/4 MRS.

Last year, I wrote about Brugh Joy M.D., a friend of a friend who claimed to be able to sense a person's presence, i.e. by something other than their heat or touch or other well-understood process. Dr. Joy claimed to be able to sense a person's emanations even through clothes or other materials.

When I wrote about Dr. Joy, I promised readers that when I saw him again, I'd ask him why he hadn't claimed James Randi's million dollar prize.

Today, I got a chance to have that discussion. Dr. Joy told me he doesn't know what these energies are or how they work, but that it is easy for him to sense them. He said he could tell the difference between different materials (e.g. gold, silver, wood) by holding his hands near samples, without looking. He said if a person were in a steel tube, he could tell from the outside which end of the tube the person's head was at.

I said I was skeptical because no one ever demonstrates this in a controlled setting.

If it's as easy to do as Dr. Joy says, if it's real, that would be of interest to people, it would be a phenomenon worth studying, it could lead to advances in physics and/or biology. But no one comes forth; Randi's prize is unclaimed; when Emily Rosa's paper was in the news nine years ago--when the topic had the public's attention--no one stepped forward and demonstrated the ability in public. If these abilities are real, no one who has them seems interested in showing them to scientists, nor in having a million dollars.

I'm glad I had the conversation with Dr. Joy today. The discussion didn't get heated, we had time to talk, and he tried to answer my questions.

When I asked whether he wanted a million dollars, he seemed indifferent; maybe, he said, if he hit on tough times.

He proposed, instead, to teach me how to detect people's energies, so that I could then claim Randi's million dollar prize. Only six or so out of several hundred people Dr. Joy says he's taught weren't able to do it. He offered to teach me, later this month or so.

We'll see.

Responses from various map sites to a request for driving directions from New York to Paris:  [ form doesn't take country names ]  [ form doesn't take country names ]
just swim

[update, 29 August 2007: Google Maps--sadly--no longer gives directions from NY to Paris.]

The other day, a merchant in town who knows I work in software brought up the topic of Bill Gates in conversation. He said he respected Gates because he was successful and because he'd prevailed in a battle against the (meddling, bad-for-business) federal government.

I know it's an uphill battle (understatement) to argue with someone who is beholden to any ideology (in this case, a simple-minded belief in the superiority of free markets), but I gently tried to point out a few ways where Micros--t's business practices have been less than wonderful for society. I didn't get anywhere, but at least the conversation remained civil.

Bruce Schneier recently made an interesting observation about Micros--t's responses to bugs in their products. MS will take their time fixing bugs that matter to users, but will immediately fix bugs in their digital rights management:
In August, a hacker developed an application called FairUse4WM that strips the copy protection from Windows Media DRM 10 and 11 files.

Now, this isn't a "vulnerability" in the normal sense of the word: digital rights management is not a feature that users want. Being able to remove copy protection is a good thing for some users, and completely irrelevant for everyone else. No user is ever going to say: "Oh no. I can now play the music I bought for my computer in my car. I must install a patch so I can't do that anymore."

But to Microsoft, this vulnerability is a big deal. It affects the company's relationship with major record labels. It affects the company's product offerings. It affects the company's bottom line. Fixing this "vulnerability" is in the company's best interest; never mind the customer.

So Microsoft wasted no time; it issued a patch three days after learning about the hack. There's no month-long wait for copyright holders who rely on Microsoft's DRM.

- Crypto-Gram, September 15, 2006
Which I bring up partly so that I can now segue into a story about Bruce Schneier (who's written extensively on cryptography and computer security). I saw Schneier give a talk at a bookstore in San Francisco around twelve years ago; his talk was good, and I liked how he conducted the question-and-answer session afterwards. He had answers to thoughtful questions, and... well... he also had answers to less-than-thoughtful questions. An exchange with a beautiful (but clueless) young male went like this:
BBCYM:Those programs in the back of your book, what do they do?
Schneier:They piss off the government.
BBCYM:No really, what do they do?
BBCYM:Encrypt what?
Schneier:Anything you want.

A friend of mine is about halfway through writing a book (semi-fiction); I told him I'd edit and typeset it, and arrange production (probably through Lulu). I offered because I wanted to help a friend out, and because I enjoy doing publishing work in general.

Although existing page layout programs (even a free one) would be adequate for the purpose, I'm writing my own. I want full control over the typography, I want to automate footnoting and indexing, and I just felt like writing the code. I want to have it around for some future projects of my own.

I'm about halfway through writing the layout program; it does basic justification and kerning already, but I need to add support for image embedding and a few other features.

I agonized over the choice of typeface for body copy, finally settling on MVB Verdigris. I called MVB Fonts yesterday with a couple technical questions, and--mirabile dictu--the designer of the typeface answered the phone, and happily answered my questions and then some. I bought (a license for) his typeface and set some sample text in it. Not only am I happy with the look, I'm happy to do business with a type foundry that offers personal service.

In addtion to all the usual ways that email spam sucks, some spammers have been using forged return addresses built from one of my domain names. This makes me look like the bad guy (possibly putting my domain name on a blacklist, so that legit email I send to people could be rejected as spam), and gets me tons of unwanted return-to-sender messages. This has been going on sporadically for a while, but hit a new high last Thursday: over 700 bounce messages in my inbox in one night.

I don't support capital punishment, but I might make an exception for spammers.

The Wikipedia Pyramid article currently (i.e., probably not for too long) includes this line:
Because the pyramids are so structually sound, researchers have now proven that Egyptians did not build the pyramids, but the aliens did.

I find it valuable to occasionally step outside of my situation--that is, to have the experience of (temporarily) seeing my circumstances from a detached viewpoint. Easier said than done; the mind's habits can be hard to break.

Methods for kicking one's mind out of a rut include:
  • change of scenery (often works, but not always)
  • random stimulus, e.g. Oblique Strategies (not a bad method)
  • drugs (not my choice, too many drawbacks)
  • have a dream about the situation (can't reliably be invoked at will, and sometimes just presents your established thought patterns in a different guise)
  • write about what you're going through (good practice in general, but doesn't always induce a detached view)
  • get lucky and have it happen spontaneously (not really a method, I guess)
Talking to people gives you access to someone else's point of view, but that's not a substitute for the experience of shifting one's own viewpoint. At least, that's how it feels to me.

Scenes (supposedly set in Afghanistan) for a feature film are being shot in my neighborhood. Access to many of the local climbing areas will be restricted this week. It would suck if this kind of thing happened often, but most of the films and commercials shot in this area aren't as intrusive as this one is.

I was thinking about spying on some of their action, but I have better things to do.

Me and a buddy went climbing elsewhere this morning after we saw the film crew invasion. They've got living quarters, food service, a gym on wheels, and who knows what all else. It seems decadent in a way. Maybe decadent isn't the right word, but it is a bit much.

I wasn't feeling that great when I got up this morning, but climbing had somehat of a rejuvenating effect. Funny, how an uncomfortable, dangerous, and demanding sport can be so satisfying.

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