Early Xmas for Me

I’ll be spending this xmas pretty much by myself (as my girlfriend is visiting her family in Casino), so we had xmas before she left, and I netted some nice stuff:

  • Large metal cocktail shaker in the form of a penguin
  • Cocktail knickbacks (Hawthorn strainer, lemon zester, muddler, ice tongs, and that cool airlock thingy that sits atop a bottle of spirits and lets you pour a shot at a time)
  • Shorts that appear to be brown but apparently fade into a camouflage pattern as the years wear on
  • Lots of books (Nietzsche, James Joyce, and HG Wells mostly, plus a big tome of Norman Spinrad’s bitchy critical writing)
  • And I finally cracked and bought myself a GameCube and a big stack of games: Metroid Prime, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and Sonic Mega Collection (a disc of twelve old sonic games which are just as fresh as the day I first played them)

Have you folks gotten anything yet?

Perl Advent Calendar

Everyone who uses Perl should be reading the Perl Advent Calendar during Saturnalia. Behind each pixelated cardboard door is an education in using a CPAN module to get the most out your time. Topics covered so far include security, aspect-oriented programming, and validating web forms

Spam Rage Arrest

Soon to be on Slashdot…

A man inundated with penis enlargement spam has been arrested for threating the lives of the alleged spammers. The 44 year old programmer verbally threatened employees of the penis-enlargement company Albion Medical with a variety of horrors including anthrax, castration, shooting, and torture with a power drill.

Comicopia

I’ve been reading a lot of web comics lately, as the alleged funnies in the daily paper haven’t been amusing for some time (with the possible exception of Bristow — consistent amusement).

You probably know of most of these, but for the uninitiated, here are some of the better ones, with a sample moment of genius from each:

Water Power — No Moving Parts

Rejected from Slashdot, so you get to enjoy it here…

BBC News is reporting the discovery of the first new method of generating electricity in over 150 years. Canadian scientists from U.Alberta have created a ‘water battery’ that can produce power without moving parts. The device stores water in thousands of 10 micron channels and generates electrity using charge separation. In the future, recharging your mobile phone could be a matter of pumping its water supply to high pressure…

Upcoming Gig

For those who are interested, I have a drum n bass DJ gig on soon. It’s at Utopia EMF (my slot is Saturday 2pm in the Throwdown arena). Watch me ruin the mood of a lazy Saturday arvo with some fast rollers.

Blood-Powered Nanomachines

This was rejected from Slashdot, so you get to enjoy it here. Can you feel the love?

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that researchers have discovered a way to generate power for nanomachines using human blood. The method, devised by the Panasonic Nanotech Research Lab in Japan, proposes fuel cells that oxidise glucose in the form of blood sugar. In theory, a single human could generate 100 watts of power — if they didn’t need any of that blood sugar for themselves.

Punting, sans Thames

The other evening Walt and I went to the dog races at Wentworth Park, to have a final beer before his move back to NZ. Notable among the folk who turned up was an American statistician, whose name temporarily escapes me. Tom? Something American, anyway. Dogs, undergrad mathematics and beer in a plastic cup made for an amusing night that I recall only hazily.

The track

Allow me to set the scene. Wentworth Park dog track is part of that largish public reserve attached to the bottom of Bay St, just past the mall and the Australian Youth Hotel. (The Yoof is currently under renovation, by the way, so it’s nice and empty and a good place to drink away from the general public. Walt always drinks at places under renovation for some reason).

The raceground itself is accessed via a run down Deco clock tower / scoreboard, and it’s $5.50 in and a few bucks more for the form guide. Don’t bother with the form if you ever go — it doesn’t tell you much more than you can see displayed on screens around the track and grandstand. Speaking of the grandstand, it’s of dubious postwar vintage, and also run down. Within are official bookies in a bank teller type setup (the TAB?) , independent bookies with olden days type wooden / chalk boards, hot dog / spud / kebab stands, and a bar serving Tooheys, Tooheys, and Tooheys. (Toohey’s is now vegan, BTW.)

The punters at the track were an interesting mix. About one third were yuppie scum like Walt and me, another third were Andy Capp clones (replete with crumpled Winnie Blue adhering to the skin of the lower lip), and the final slice were 15-16 y.o. street kids from Glebe with fake IDs (so the bookies could claim plausible deniability tho’ even the most simian cop would instantly pick them as teenagers).

The dogs and my early systems

After grabbing an Old in plastic (the poor man’s Cooper’s Stout), I thought long and hard about a system that would let me pick the winning dog. I decided that the key would be inspecting the actual dogs rather than going by the form data (win-place-lose etc). About two minutes before the race the dogs are walked around a small paddock adjacent to the track so that they can stare longingly at the mechanical rabbit and mark an unfortunately positioned, much-abused shrub as their territory. After a minute and a half in the paddock the dogs are then marched past the grandstand to the starter’s box, to the cheers and insults of the handful of people dumb enough to sit outside on a winter evening.

I walked down to the pre-race paddock, beer in hand, and inspected the beasts. After careful consideration, I decided that a black dog with a white spot on its tail was the most podlike, so I dashed off to the TAB window and put two bucks on him to win. As the race starts so soon after the dogs are put on display, you really have to run to queue up and place a bet before the race starts (presumably so someone with a better system than poddiness doesn’t get an unfair advantage).

Spot came in second last, so I abandoned that system.

In the next race my idea was to pick the dog who most resembled Arnie. A big muscly dog that would win me big bucks, and then be back to win again. Again I dashed off to give the TAB two bucks, and again no luck.

After that I sat a few races out and decided to consider the odds, in the form of the payoff for each dog from a dollar bet. They fell into three rough groupings:

  • $1.10 to $2 — the favourite
  • $20 to $50 — a complete no hoper of a dog who had never placed before and was unlikely to this time
  • $5 to $10 — a competent beastie overshadowed by the favourite, but still very much in the game

I decided that there was little point betting on the favourite if I was betting gold coins. A 20 cent proft from a $2 bet would hardly cover the sip of beer I took on the way to the dog paddock. The no hopers, by definition, had no hope, so I gave them a miss also. This left the five to ten buck dogs: a decent payoff for a win, and a good chance of at least running in the right direction. But which of these dogs to bet on?

The psycho nutter system

Scooting off to the paddock again, I matched up the dogs in the paddock to the dogs paying $5 to $10 on the big board. Of the four dogs in this group, one had its ear folded over. Obviously the owner cared little, and this dog would not be trained to win me big cash! So not foldy dog. Another beastie had its tail between its legs, which I thought was a sign of subservience. And on the racetrack, you can’t win if you’re stopping to let the alpha dog pass! No money on tail dog. This left me with two possible dogs, both looking pretty proficient. One stopped to piss on the unfortunate shrub I mentioned earlier, so I eliminated him on the grounds that he might be a bit nervous and cock it up on the track. Speeding like a greyhound, I hit the TAB with seconds to spare and put two bucks on dog #6. Looking at my receipt I saw that my chosen dog was called November Desire. Ah, I thought, the only reason he’s not the favourite is the superstitious Andy Capps being afraid to bet on him in July.

Returning to my seat with a fresh beer, I saw November Desire being pushed towards the starting box thingy. The dog bounced up and down like a thin mindless force of nature. It was a drooling cruise missile programmed for glory; a psycho nutter of a dog. The mechanical rabbit hooned past the box (looking for all the world like a hillbilly’s aerial decoration), and they were off… with ND in the lead. The favourite was in hot pursuit, while the $50 dollar dogs milled around, sniffing each other’s genitalia and blocking off Foldy Ear, Droopy Tail, and Nervous Widdler. I booed the favourite from the stands, and, with feelings hurt, it gave up the chase yielding victory to November Desire!

I collected $16 from the TAB and sipped a G&T in a plastic cup while I contemplated my next move. Victory had tasted as sweet as whatever was standing for tonic water at the grandstand bar… I wanted to taste that flavour again, but tempered by the powerful quinine of applied statistics. I decided to see how Tom had been going, and if he had been going well, combine our two systems like so much carbonated water and erstatz tonic syrup.

Tom’s system

Tom, it turns out, had been waiting for those races where the sum of the profit from a bet on every dog to win was greater than the cost of placing a bet. This rarely occured (the independent bookies not connected to the TAB computer never let it happen for them), and when it did the payoff was usually pretty small — perhaps 20c back for eight $1 bets. I told Tom about the psycho nutter system and we decided to try a combined version: bet on all the $5 to $10 dogs in good health to win, and forget about the favourite and the no hopers.

We made six bucks apiece on the next race. The system worked and we would be wealthy men thanks to a combination of mysticism and basic arithmetic! We resolved to bet everything everything on the next suitable race and convert our winnings into cases of German beer. Unfortunately our six dollar race turned out to be the last of the night, and we had to leave the track before we could ride into a higher tax bracket on the backs of scrawny greyhounds.

Next time for sure…

Quoth the Server…

I’ve emailed this around before, but was reminded of it on the weekend when I read John Sladek’s Poe parody The Purlioned Butter and thought it would suit the blog nicely. Here it is, then: Edgar Allan Poe’s 404 message.

Once upon a midnight dreary,
While I websurfed, weak and weary,
Over many a strange and spurious website of hot chicks galore,

While I clicked my fav’rite bookmark,
Suddenly there came a warning,
And my heart was filled with mourning,
Mourning for my dear amour.

‘Tis not possible, I muttered,
Give me back my cheap hardcore!
Quoth the server, “404”.

Organic Pest Control

A true story…

I went downstairs just now for my morning coffee, and encountered my colleague Lynn by the sugar bowl and cup of wooden sticks. She caught me yawning and asked if I had gotten enough sleep. I replied that I’d had plenty, as I’d forgotten to set my alarm and only awoken at 7.50 when the starlings in my ceiling began their morning peckings. (I imagine them with hardhats on jackerhammering through the roof in order to visit me and gain access to my morning weetbix. Anyway…)
Lynn told me that she had a similar thing happening at her house, but rather than helpful alarm starlings in the morning she had annoying rats in her roof, partying through to the wee hours.

‘That sucks’, I said.

‘Yes’, she replied, ‘But it’s only for the winter.’

‘Why do the rats only bother you in winter?’

‘That’s when my python hibernates.’

Like I said, a true tale of organic pest control…

Robert Anton Wilson on Comedy, Censorship, and Language

A friend sent me this interesting blurb by Robert Anton Wilson, from a collection of his essays. In it he discusses censorship in terms of his quantum psychology ideas.

How George Carlin Made Legal History

Everybody understands that you cannot drink the word water, and yet virtually nobody seems entirely free of semantic delusions entirely comparable to trying to drink the ink-stains that form the word water on this page or the sound waves produced when I say water aloud. If you say, The word is not the thing, everybody agrees placidly; if you watch people, you see that they continue to behave as if something called Sacred really is Sacred and something called Junk really is Junk.

This type of neurolinguistic hallucination appears so common among humans that it usually remains invisible to us, as some claim water appears invisible to fish, and we will continue to illustrate it copiously as we proceed. On analysis, this word hypnosis seems the most peculiar fact about the human race. Count Alfred Korzybski said we confuse the map with the territory. Alan Watts said we can’t tell the menu from the meal. However one phrases it, humans seem strangely prone to confusing their mental file cabinets — neurolinguistic grids — with the non-verbal world of sensory-sensual space-time.

As Lao-Tse said in the Tao Te Ching, 2500 years ago,

The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on.

(Or:

The way that can be spoken is not the way that can be trodden.)

We all know this (or think that we do) and yet we all perpetually forget it.

For instance, here in the United States — an allegedly secular Democracy with an iron wall of separation between Church and State written into its Constitution — the Federal Communications Commission has a list of Seven Forbidden Words which nobody may speak on the radio or television. Any attempt to find out why these words remain Tabu leads into an epistemological fog, a morass of medieval metaphysics, in which concepts melt like Salvador Dali’s clocks and ideas become as slippery as a boat deck in bad weather.

One cannot dismiss this mystery as trivial. When comedian George Carlin made a record (Occupation: Foole) discussing, among other things, The seven words you can never say on television, WBAI radio (New York) played the record, and received a fine so heavy that, although the incident occurred in 1973, WBAI, a small listener-sponsored station, recently announced (1990) that they have not yet paid all their legal costs in fighting the case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Eight Wise Men (and One Wise Woman) thereon upheld the Federal Communications Commission.

The highest court in the land has actually ruled on what comedians may and may not joke about. George Carlin has become something more than a comedian. He now has the status of a Legal Precedent. You will pay a heavy fine, in the US today, if you speak any of the Seven Forbidden Words on radio or television — shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, mother fucker and tits.

The words have been forbidden, our Government says, because they are indecent. Why are they indecent? Because a certain percentage of people who might turn on the radio or TV experience them as indecent.

Why do sombunall people experience these words as indecent? Because the words are dirty or vulgar.

Why are these words dirty and vulgar when other words, denoting the same objects or events, are not dirty or vulgar? Why, specifically, can a radio station be fined if a psychologist on a talk show says He was so angry he wouldn’t fuck her any more but not fined at all if the psychologist says He was so angry he stopped having sexual intercourse with her?

As Mr Carlin pointed out in the comedy routine which led the Supreme Court to perform their even more remarkable comedy routine, fucking seems one of the most common topics on television, even though nobody uses the word. To paraphrase Mr Carlin, many guests on the Merv Griffin and Donahue shows have written books on how to fuck or who to fuck or how to fuck better, and nobody objects as long as they say sexual intercourse instead of fucking. And, of course, as Carlin goes on, the main topics on soap operas, day after day, consist of who has fucked whom, will she fuck him, will he fuck somebody else, have they fucked yet, who’s getting fucked now, etc.

Some say fuck is dirty and sexual intercourse isn’t because fuck comes from the Anglo-Saxon and sexual intercourse comes from the Latin. But then we must ask: how did Anglo-Saxon get to be dirty and why does Latin remain clean?

Well, others tell us, fuck represents lower-class speech and sexual intercourse represents middle-and-upper class speech. This does not happen to accord with brute fact, statistically: I have heard the word fuck in the daily (non-radio) conversation of professors, politicians, business persons, poets, movie stars, doctors, lawyers, police persons and most of the population of sombunall classes and castes, except a few religious conservatives.

And, even if fuck did occur exclusively in lower-class speech, we do not know, and can hardly explain, why it has been subject to a huge and bodacious fine when such other lower-class locutions as ain’t, fridge (for refrigerator), gonna and whyncha (why don’t you) have not fallen under similar sanction. Nor have we yet seen a ban on the distinctly lower class Jeet? Naw — Jew? (Did you eat? No, did you?)

The fact that some enclaves of religious conservatives do not use the word fuck (or are embarrassed if they get caught using it) seems to provide the only clue to this mystery. The Federal Communications Commission, it seems, bases its policy upon persons who believe, or for political reasons wish to seem to believe, that the rather paranoid God of the conservative religions has His own list of Seven Forbidden Words and will become quite irate if the official Tabu list of our government does not match His list. Since that particular Deity has a reputation for blowing a few cities to hell whenever he feels annoyed, the FCC may, in the back of their heads, think they will prevent further earthquakes by maintaining the Tabu on the Seven Unspeakable Words.

The Wall of Separation between Church and State, like many other pious pronouncements in our Constitution, does not correspond with the way our government actually functions. In short, the Seven Forbidden Words remain forbidden because pronouncing them aloud might agitate some Stone Age deity or other, and we still live in the same web of Tabu that controls other primitive peoples on this boondocks planet.

Some light seems about to dawn in the semantic murk… but let us press further and ask why the conservative’s Stone Age God objects to fuck and not to sexual intercourse or such synonyms as coitus, copulation, sexual congress, sexual union, love-making, etc? Should we believe this God has a violent prejudice against words which, in reputation if not in reality, seem to reflect lower-class culture? Does this God dislike poor people as much as Ronald Reagan did?

Perhaps the reader will appreciate the immensity of this mystery more fully if I ask a related question:

If the word fuck is obscene or dirty, why isn’t the word duck 75% dirty?

Or, similarly:

If the word cunt is unacceptable to the conservative’s God, why does the word punt not receive a 75% unacceptability rating? Why do we not see it spelled p in the daily press?

To quote the admirable George Carlin one more time, Such logic! Such law!


Exercises

1. Try to explain the difference between a Playboy centrefold and a nude by Renoir. Discuss among the whole group and see if you can arrive at a conclusion that makes sense when stated in operational-existential language.

2. Perform the same delicate semantic analysis upon a soft-core porn movie and a hard-core porn movie. Remember: try to keep your sentences operational, and avoid Aristotelian essences or spooks.

3. When US troops entered Cambodia, the Nixon administration claimed this was not an invasion, because it was only an incursion. See if anybody can restate this difference in operational language.

4. The CIA refers to certain acts as termination with maximum prejudice. The press describes these acts as assassinations. Try to explain to each other the difference. Also, imagine yourselves as the victims. Do you care deeply whether your death gets called termination with maximum prejudice or assassination?

5. In the 1950s, the film The Moon Is Blue, became a center of controversy and actually got banned in some cities because it contained the word virgin. How does this seem in retrospect? Discuss. (If anybody finds Mr Carlin’s paraphrased jokes offensive let them explain why the above film no longer seems offensive.)

UK to Prosecute Corporate Killers

Interesting article at the the Beeb.

Manslaughter charges will soon be able to brought against negligent corporations in the UK. There is some concern that the law does not go far enough, insofar as individual directors may be able to escape prosecution when the company takes the blame.

In Iambic Pentameter

Blockquote from William Gibson’s blog:

WASHINGTON POST STYLE has a contest in which readers submit instructions for doing various things, their choice, as written by famous authors. Jeff Brechlin of Potomac Falls recently won for the following, for wonderfully obvious reasons:

The Hokey Pokey (as written by W. Shakespeare)

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.

Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.

The Hoke, the poke — banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about.

Minesweeper

Mac users rejoice: as my first experiment with Java, I’ve written a half-arsed port of the classic Windows game Minesweeper.

You can download the source as a zip archive here, or post a comment if you’d prefer a tarball.

It’s not an applet, so you might need a JDK to run it. Have fun.