Monthly Archives: August 2004

Orlando Notes

Destruction: Thanks to Hurricane Charley, our terminal at the Orlando airport was missing a roof. Ok, this is an exaggeration, but there was enough damage that water from the recent rains was falling from the ceiling as we stepped through the gate, and ceiling tiles that absorbed too much water had been falling to the floor.
Outside we saw plenty of uprooted trees and freeway signs ripped from their posts, but no scenes of apocalyptic devastation.
In-flight Movies: Total offered: 4. Total watched: 0. They were:
Mean Girls: I’d actually heard this was good, but I spent the flight finishing A Storm of Swords.
Starsky & Hutch: Or, I could sleep.
Johnson Family Vacation: I didn’t watch it, but based on the reaction of the woman sitting next to me, it’s almost as funny as catching Dorothy and her little dog, too.
Jersey Girl: I’d been warned about this one, and avoided it.
In-flight Reading:
A Storm of Swords: This is a damn good fantasy series. Unfortunately, I’m now in the miserable category of Waiting for the Next Book. And it’s going to be a long wait. I’m writing down some notes about what the characters are doing so I can remind myself in a year.
Battle Royale: This was my reading material for the rest of the trip. Very much a pulp novel and the writing is at about the quality of The Da Vinci Code (this is not a compliment). But in this case that could be a problem with the translator rather than the author. Decent airplane reading, although I had trouble at times keeping track of all the characters–maybe I, too, should have been checking them off the list.
Annoying Children: Needless to say, if Orlando isn’t the world capital of loud, obnoxious kids, it’s at least in the top five. During the shuttle ride from the airport (30 minutes that felt like a year) I was crammed in with some typical specimens, and I spent the ride inventorying the items on hand to determine if I could, on the spot, undertake irreversible surgery to prevent me from ever spawning. Although if there had been sharp objects on hand, I’m not sure I would have been so restrained as to use them only on myself. The father was just as bad, pointing to every billboard that advertised a theme park (which meant, in fact, every billboard) and saying, “Look guys, there’s [name of ride]“. Maybe they came from a state with no advertising, I don’t know.
I also got to share my return flight with the Whiniest Kid in the Universe, who cried for pretty much the entire flight over some trivial issue (he dropped a cup on the floor, and couldn’t retrieve it? It was something like this), and then, in a brilliant tactical manuever, switched to crying about how his “parent” (I use the term loosely) was making him cry by not rectifying the situation. Having just read all that George R. R. Martin I immediately thought of Robert Arryn, but since I was sitting in the exit row, I was the one with the Moon Door*. I suppose I would have been prevented from flinging him out the exit door, but it was a nice thought. (As an aside, while my position on screaming infants on airplanes is well-known, I at least understand their point of view. When the kid is old enough to know better, that’s less excusable.)
*Did I get the name right? I’ll check when I get home.
Arcane Gazebo vs. Dihydrogen Monoxide: I engaged in an epic battle against the hotel shower, and lost. The design flaws were combined too well to really be flaws; I suspect the designer was deliberately trying to cause trouble.
The Talk: I walked up to the podium, clipped on the microphone, and set up the Powerpoint slides. Then I turned around and saw that I was looking at a big room filled with important people who were all looking at me. My brain sort of froze at that point, but some automatic trigger went off and I heard my own voice over the speaker introducing the talk. Once I had started, I had to concentrate on what to say next and this caused me to put the whole being-stared-at thing at the back of my mind. I felt like my delivery was better than it was in March, and the feedback I got later was very positive. Plus, my talk was given as an annex to John’s, so I stuck him with all the questions. So it was pretty successful.

Beer, then sleep. Blog later.

Please excuse the lack of updating this week; I just staggered back in from Orlando where I barely had time to eat or sleep, never mind blog (or, for that matter, step outside the hotel). A more detailed report should follow tomorrow, and then I will try to catch up on the news.

Dreaming of a new quote

Last week’s quote (I’m not randomly hostile. I’m hostile when hostility is called for.) was another one from The West Wing. This time it was from episode 1×15 (“Celestial Navigation”), from Josh Lyman as he is about to give the press briefing in place of CJ.
The new quote is difficulty: Severe; 5 points. I kept dreaming about people I know this weekend, so it seemed appropriate.

This week’s travel destination

Tomorrow I’m off to the Army Research Office’s Quantum Computing Program Review. The conference will be held here:

Yes, we will go to Earth’s far-flung future, a post-apocalyptic ruin, to seek out any surviving quantum computers… if the deathclaws don’t find us first. Then, we will return to our own time, and use the newfound knowledge to try to avert the impending catastrophe, incurring any number of paradoxes in the process.
No, wait–that’s actually a photo from Florida. The conference will be in Orlando. My mistake. (The NSA won’t authorize us to use their time-travel technology until the next round of funding anyway.)

On the mass annulments in SF

State high court invalidates SF’s same-sex marriages
San Francisco’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriages, which made the city a magnet for gay and lesbian couples from around the nation and the focus of a nationwide political uproar, ran into a roadblock Thursday at the California Supreme Court.
The justices ruled unanimously that Mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority when he ordered the marriage licenses issued on Feb. 12 in defiance of a state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

I hate to say it but the court did the right thing here. Unconstitutional laws should be challenged through the courts rather than just disregarded by local officials who disagree with them. In this case I agree with Newsom’s goal, but I can’t help envisioning alternative scenarios where more conservative towns reject state law for more harmful purposes. If a California mayor instituted (say) mandatory school prayer under this kind of argument, I’d want the courts to stop him as soon as possible, and I feel I should hold Newsom to the same standard.
The sort of legal action that led to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts seems like the right way to do it, barring a successful ballot measure or act of the legislature (neither of which is likely). Of course conditions have to be right in the courts, or the result could instead be a pretty damaging precedent.

Is my name hot or not?

Hey, I’ve got at least one thing going for me:

Pleasing names make faces sexier
Linguist Amy Perfors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, US, placed photos with fake names on a website called ?Hot or Not?, which allows viewers to rank strangers? photos for attractiveness.
She found that men labelled with names including ?front vowels,? such as the ?aaa? sound in Matt were rated as more attractive by website viewers than photos labelled with ?back vowel? names, such as the ?aw? sound in Paul. The opposite was true for women?s names.

(Via Maaatt Yglesias)
I’d forgotten about Hot or Not. On the timescale of internet memes, that was eons ago…

Scorched-earth anti-spam tactics begin.

Since spammers persist in mass posting of unspeakably vile advertisements, I have disabled HTML in comments. This is retroactive, so if a comment doesn’t make sense it probably contained a link originally. Or it was one of those comments I posted after five beers.
Now I have to hope the spammers realize I did this, and go away.
UPDATE: Fuck! I went through all 450 entries in the archives and deleted all the comment spam, and while I was doing this a bunch more got posted. I’m going to block IP’s as well; the guy posting the majority of these is just cycling through a small number of addresses. Unfortunately the easiest way to get the IP addresses is to view the e-mails I get when a comment is sent, which means viewing the comments, which is not something I can really do safely while in the lab…
UPDATE 2: Ok, I think I got all of it for now. If anyone comes across spam that I missed, please let me know. This would have been much more annoying without Firefox’s “Find As You Type” feature to locate the desired post on the edit page. My new policy will be to block promptly the originating IP of every spam comment, which would have saved me a lot of trouble had I done this earlier. It’s unfortunate that I had to disable HTML in comments, but if this annoyance gives me more time for actual blogging as opposed to fighting spam, it’s worthwhile on balance.
The difficulty here is obviously that it’s a lot less effort for spammers to attack than it is for me to clean up after them, and a lot easier for them to switch IP addresses than it is for me to ban them. The strategy I have in mind is to pursue these measures in the short run, while hoping that in the long run I get taken off whatever list I’m on of Movable Type blogs that allow HTML comments. The whole point of the blog spamming exercise is to increase the spammer’s Google PageRank, so if I’m lucky they’ll decide I’m not worth the tiny effort involved if they can’t post links.

Hardware Inadequacies

My trusty laptop computer Aelia does not meet the “minimum system requirements” for Doom 3. Her shortcoming is the graphics adapter; while Aelia’s Radeon 9000 is supported, she has the 32MB version, and this is Not Recommended.
This did not deter me from installing the game; the framerate is highly suboptimal but playable. As others have said, it’s very immersive and quite spooky (with the occasional cheesiness like the floating skulls). I have yet to try the multiplayer.
My trusty desktop computer Tentacle also fails to meet the minimum system requirements. Its graphics adapter has 64MB, but is an older, unsupported Radeon. This can be remedied at moderate expense, but Tentacle also falls 100MHz short of the minimum processor requirement. The question I have been asking myself is whether the game would run better on a slower computer with a better graphics card…
Of course I could make some more massive upgrades, but I haven’t been playing enough computer games lately to justify this.


June 24, 2004: “I hesitate to make any endorsements related to this measure, as my position could leave me open to smart-ass remarks in the comments. However, since I’m not likely to move to Berkeley before November, I won’t have the opportunity to vote on it anyway.”
August 2, 2004: “A move to Berkeley is looking more and more probable.”
August 7, 2004: I have leased an apartment in Berkeley. Expect the local politics section of this blog to get a lot wackier.