Sea of Noise


Tue, 04 Aug 2009

Russell Kirk's Fun With Words

I've been packing up some of my books for storage this summer, and finding a variety of things stuck between the pages as I do—from old bills and paystubs to unused gift certificates and bookmarks from long-gone bookstores. In my copy of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot I found this delightful list of words and phrases:

I'd guess that all but a handful of these words were new to me at the time ("lineaments", though, I'd seen before thanks to an obsession with William Blake during high school), and even now I see several (like the timely "jobbery") that I really ought to make an effort to remember.

[/writing] permanent link

Fri, 08 Aug 2008

Eno & Byrne Return!

Nearly three decades after they blew minds with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Brian Eno & David Byrne have collaborated again on the forthcoming Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (due out August 18).

This groove is out of fashion,
these beats are twenty years old

Not at all, gentlemen. Not at all.

[/music] permanent link

Thu, 26 Jun 2008

Supreme Court Strikes Down DC Handgun Ban

Today is a good day for the Constitution (though the fight isn't over yet)...

[/life/liberty] permanent link

Mon, 23 Jun 2008

Farewell, George Carlin

Sadly, George Carlin will no longer grace us with his words, dirty or otherwise, having died last night at the curmodgeonly age of 71. As Carlin himself told us, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean life isn't out to get you:

And now, ladies and gentlemen, that we've enjoyed some good times this evening, and enjoyed some laughter together, I feel it is my obligation to remind you of some of the negative, depressing, dangerous, life-threatening things that life is really all about—things you have not been thinking about tonight, but which will be waiting for you as soon as you leave the theater, or as soon as you turn off your television sets: anal rape, quicksand, body lice, evil spirits, gridlock, acid rain, continental drift, labor violence, flash floods, rabies, torture, bad luck, calcium deficiency, falling rocks, cattle stampedes, bank failure, evil neighbors, killer bees, organ rejection, lynching, toxic waste, unstable dynamite, religious fanatics, prickly heat, price fixing, moral decay, hotel fires, loss of face, stink bombs, bubonic plague, neo-Nazis, friction, cereal weevils, failure of will, chain reaction, soil erosion, mail fraud, dry rot, voodoo curses, broken glass, snake bites, parasites, white slavery, public ridicule, faithless friends, random violence, breach of contract, family scandals, charlatans, transverse militias, structural defects, race riots, sun spots, rogue elephants, wax buildup, killer frost, jealous co-workers, root canals, mental fatigue, corporal punishment, sneak attacks, peer pressure, vigilantes, birth defects, false advertising, ungrateful children, financial ruin, mildew, loss of privileges, bad drugs, ill-fitting shoes, widespread chaos, Lou Gehrig's Disease, stray bullets, runaway trains, chemical spills, locusts, airline food, shipwrecks, prowlers, bathtub accidents, faulty merchandise, terrorism, discrimination, wrongful cremation, carbon deposits, beef tapeworm, taxation without representation, escaped maniacs, sunburn, abandonment, threatening letters, entropy, nine-mile fever , poor workmanship, absentee landlord, solitary confinement, depletion of the ozone layer, unworthiness, intestinal bleeding, defrocked priests, loss of equilibrium, disgruntled employees, global warming, card sharks, poisoned meat, nuclear accidents, broken promises, contamination of the water supply, obscene phone calls, nuclear winter, wayward girls, mutual assured destruction, rampaging moose, the greenhouse effect, cluster headaches, social isolation, Dutch elm disease, contraction of the universe, paper cuts, eternal damnation, the wrath of God, and paranoia! Thank you all, very much. Thank you very much and good night, y'all. See ya now...

[/people] permanent link

Fri, 06 Jun 2008

LibraryThing Top 106 Unread Books

I figured it was time for me to play along with this, since a few do, indeed, show up in the pile of books I own but haven't yet read. (Admittedly, I'm fuzzy on a few of them.) I confess that I would have read more of Jane Austen's books if there weren't so many excellent movies made of them. And the ones I haven't finished will probably get finished someday—I didn't finish Atlas Shrugged the first time, either. I like to read fiction straight through and it's tough for me to get started again when I'm interrupted mid-book.

Below is a list of the top 106 books tagged unread on LibraryThing.

The rules:
bold = what you've read
italics = books you started but couldn't finish
crossed out = books you hated
*= you've read more than once
underline = books you own but haven't read yourself

[/books] permanent link

Thu, 05 Jun 2008

Gmail: Smell the Fail

Gmail has been sucking even more than usual lately. If you don't run a mail server, you might not have noticed; but Gmail has become a cesspool spewing spam onto the rest of the 'net. For the few hundred domains I host, Gmail is now beating out Yahoo, MSN, Earthlink, and AT&T as a source of spam among the companies I don't block from my servers outright. (And that's quite an accomplishment, because the aforementioned companies suck more than a little! AOL, BTW, would have been on that list until recently, and they still originate a lot of spam, but they've come a long way.)

For what it's worth, here's a comment I posted tonight to a discussion list where Gmail's suckage and our desire to block their servers has been a topic of conversation among mail server administrators of late:

Quite a few of us seem to think that Google and other "free"mail services have a responsibility to the rest of the 'net to vet their prospective users. The response to any proposed requirements, though, seems to be that the methods aren't impervious to fraud and/or will be too high a barrier for certain kinds of people. But there's no reason that multiple approaches to tying someone to a real world identity can't be used, nor does a decision about trust have to be binary. (Why are new Gmail users able to send a seemingly infinite number of emails, to anyone, on day one?) More importantly, all of these approaches could be enhanced by using reputation information already present in the network.

When Gmail was first rolled out, I was excited about it—not because I wanted to use it, but because I mistakenly thought Google was doing something new to address the spam problem that plagued other freemail services. Remember "invites"? It boggles my mind that Google stopped requiring invites and apparently never used the social network and reputation possibilities they provided!

Am I the only person who is amazed that the company built on PageRank can't figure this out?

[/internet/spam] permanent link

Sun, 27 Apr 2008

Self-Storage Costs for My Book Collection

So, I'm planning to move to some as-yet-unknown city for grad school a year from now, and I'm trying to decide how aggressively to prune my book collection. After some initial pruning, I'm at 2001 books. I can probably find another dozen or two that I won't miss much, but I'm basically at the point where I have to ask myself whether the cost of storing them for five years (either in self-storage or via renting a larger apartment) exceeds their replacement cost minus whatever I can get for them at the local used book store.

400-500 of these books are part of my working library (mostly economics, math, and computing) that will need to be at hand in my home or office. But if I keep the remaining 1500-1600 they could be stored at the cheapest facility available. Climate control probably isn't necessarily, but since I'll also be storing my equally-massive LP collection (another weeding-out problem I'll face!), I'm going to assume that I'll be buying climate-controlled space that is as cheap on the margin at non-climate-controlled space. From some quick research, it looks as though long-term storage is available as cheap as $1/square foot.

Let's say that I buy an extra 25 square feet for my books. Assuming I use standard 12"x15" cardboard boxes and stack them four levels high, that's room for 80 boxes. (That might be a tight fit, but I could adjust by using some shelving to get them stacked higher than 4 boxes.)

Here's the trickiest part: how many books can I fit in each box? I happen to have eight boxes full of books right now and on average they're holding 21.625 books. (The biased nature of this sample probably underestimates the carrying capacity of the boxes for my average book, but let's go with it for now.) So this suggests that I can fit a total of 1730 books in a 5x5 self-storage space without getting into elaborate structural engineering to take full advantage of the 10 foot high ceilings some places advertise.

So, we're assuming 25 square feet at $25/month for the five years it should take to finish a Ph.D. That's $1500. Divide by 1730 books and that's about 87 cents per book. Of course, I may not fill the space completely, and there will eventually be some transportation costs to get the books to wherever I end up (as well as cost of capital). I think I can ignore the integer problem, even though technically it means the cost of storage may be zero at the margin. Let's call it $1/book--maybe half that for small paperbacks and twice or more for stuff like atlases.

From one angle, that's a pretty low number. From another, it seems profligate. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between. Certainly, looking at the lifetime cost of holding onto a book, owning some of those cheap sci-fi paperbacks or Dilbert cartoon collections doesn't seem worthwhile. And, while I do re-read many of my books and tend to have broad and obscure tastes not always well-served by the local library, the existence of a thick market for used books via the Internet makes it seem like a distributed peer-to-peer library. Many books--even some that are out-of-print--can be had for a penny plus $3.99 shipping. And, of course, most of these books would net me at least a token amount if I sold them.

It seems that if I'm not sure I'll still want to own a given book five years from now, or if it's one whose price will continue to fall over the next five years, I might as well sell it or give it away. On the other hand, an obscure and/or rare book is well worth the $1 it will cost to store. In the end, I'm not sure how much this analysis really helps: it makes it easier to let go of some books, but it still leaves hundreds in the grey, fat margin of uncertainty.

I guess the next step is to cull some books and get used to the idea of having less stuff. Maybe the real cost of having so much stuff has nothing to do with the price of self-storage?

[/books] permanent link

Thu, 17 Jan 2008

Chuck Lorre and the Law of Threes

Chuck Lorre is a mad genius. Chuck who? If, like me, you're a fan of Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory and own a Tivo, you probably know already. He's the guy who writes those awesome vanity cards that appear ever-so-briefly at the end of each show. If not, go to the aforelinked web site and start reading. Didn't I tell ya? A mad genius...

Actually, I feel like a big cheater reading the vanity cards on a web site. But, hey, I didn't have a Tivo (or even a VCR) back when his other shows, like Dharma & Greg, were going concerns. So I'm doing it anyway.

And right there in vanity card #1 he mentions the Law of Three. Awesome. That there Law of Three crops up everywhere, don't it? Apparently even in comedy. (Some call it the Rule of Three instead. Whatever works for you.) This is what I'm talking about. Genius.

This is why Chuck Lorre is on my very short list of Hollywood People I'd Actually Like to Meet. Come to think of it, he probably has a lot of time on his hands right now. Chuck, buddy, you should come to Connecticut and check out the freaky snowwoman in our front yard right now. She'd make a great vanity card, but I'm too lazy to figure out how to take a picture before she melts. The first beer is on me.

[/fun] permanent link

Mon, 14 Jan 2008

Terminator!

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles could suck and I'd still watch it, as long as it featured Summer Glau as an ass-kicking robot!

Fortunately, if the pilot is any guide, it's not going to suck (much). Let's just hope they don't have future storylines featuring time travel as implausible as Seven Days or computer security as badly scripted as 24...

[/fun] permanent link

Tue, 08 Jan 2008

A Sobering Thought for New Hampshire Voters

As our fellow citizens in New Hampshire go to the polls today, Black Box Voting brings us a video demonstrating how easy it is to tamper with election results for 81% of New Hampshire voters. (And, incidentally, all of us Connecticut voters!)

More information and discussion here.

[/politics] permanent link

Sun, 23 Dec 2007

There Ought To Be A Word For...

...the feeling you get when you stub your toe, right before it actually starts to hurt.

I'd say "dread", but somehow that doesn't quite capture the feeling. I suspect that German has the word I'm looking for. Like "sehnsucht", but not.

[/writing] permanent link

Thu, 11 Oct 2007

Place Your 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics Bets!

If I were a betting man, I think I'd go with Bhagwati to show in 2007.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking. Wouldn't it be nice if the current crop of US presidential candidates had to stop and pay attention to Bhagwati for a couple of minutes?

[/economics] permanent link

Tue, 14 Aug 2007

Phil Rizzuto, R.I.P.

I'm not a big sports fan, but even I couldn't fail to note the passing of Yankees great Phil Rizzuto. I never saw him play, but his voice was plenty familiar from many afternoons watching baseball on TV with my grandfather--part of the soundtrack of my youth. Not just because of baseball, per se, of course: in my book, Rizzuto's best performance will always be as the announcer on Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light"!

Wikipedia provides an appropriate quote for the occasion, attributed to Rizzuto on hearing about Pope Paul VI's death at the end of a game: "Well, that kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win."

[/people] permanent link

Mon, 30 Jul 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now that I've had a chance to recover from an intensive re-reading of the series and a marathon reading of the final book, it's time to write down a few thoughts while the details are fresh in my mind. I have the feeling I'll be thinking about this series for a long time, though...

Here's a spoiler-free review (save for the broad outline). (If you like it, please give me a thumbs-up on the LibraryThing page for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

Far more than any previous book in the series, Deathly Hallows is not for those who haven't read the preceding books. Indeed, I was happy I had resisted the urge to jump in before finishing my re-reading of the previous six books. For the devoted fan, though, Deathly Hallows wraps up the series quite well: masks are removed and accounts are settled.

Whereas each of the previous six books, especially the first four, had their own mini-arc that was satisfying in itself, the pleasure in Deathly Hallow comes from seeing Rowling weave together the threads of the backstory to bring the tapestry of the entire series into focus.

Having read a fair bit of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces--as well as plenty of fairy stories, legends, and mythology--I felt confident that I knew the broad outlines of the conclusion to the Harry Potter story; and I had guessed the identity of the mysterious R.A.B. and sussed out which team Snape was playing on. My guesses were correct, but that didn't spoil the pleasure of learning the details. Nor did it keep me from being surprised occasionally, e.g. by Dumbledore.

In some ways, I found the story of the "deathly hallows" a bit of a distraction. On the other hand, the presence of a yoni/lingam symbol on the jacket of a children's book (at least in the UK edition) was amusing and got me looking more deeply at the other symbols in the story. Indeed, this was the first book in the series that I felt was solidly more mythical than muggle.

As expected, people (and other creatures) die. I don't fault Rowling for that, but I often felt that their deaths were "wasted"--that they were killed off with little meaning or chance to mourn. I was also disappointed that some characters who played a large role in earlier books were almost unheard from here, though to be fair we do a satisfying bit about other characters. I was pleased, though, that by the end of the story all of the characters were more human (even the ones who weren't, strictly speaking, human).

The final chapter was a shock at first, in that its tone was so different from the rest of the book. (I was reminded of the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange--the one that was left out of the US edition.) But as I lived with the story for a couple of post-Potter days, I realized that it was perfectly appropriate. The Harry Potter story has, at times, been delightfully subversive--even "queer". But, for the most part, the virtues of Harry Potter are bourgeois ones, and the boon he wins is an appropriate one.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for an immensely enjoyable seven books!

[/books] permanent link

Tue, 24 Jul 2007

LibraryThing's New Tagmash Feature

Reason #132 that I love LibraryThing: erotica & zombies tagmash.

Where else would you find such a... useful? feature?

[/books] permanent link

Mon, 23 Jul 2007

Ode to a Faithful Linux Server

Once upon a time there was a server...

She started out life in the summer of 1997 as a generic Pentium 166 server with 128 MB of RAM and a little IDE drive, but she was quickly named "nancy" (after the character in the Firesign Theatre's Nick Danger sketch).

Soon, nancy sported an installation of Slackware Linux with the spiffy 2.0.30 kernel and, by fall, she was up and running on the 'net, where she handled DNS, RADIUS, SMTP, and POP3 for my ISP. (Of course, nancy was hardly alone. Over the years her "friends" included danger, catherwood, and bradshaw, as well as her alter-egos bettyjo, melanie, and audrey.)

By 1998, nancy was busy handling thousands of email accounts, as well as serving as the primary RADIUS server for over a thousand dial-up customers. That might seem like a lot for a machine in her hardware class, but in fact nancy rarely broke a sweat in those days. For one thing, she ran Linux, with a custom-compiled kernel and no windowing system to slow her down. For another, those were still the halcyon days of the 'net, with spammers only just beginning to make their slimy presence felt.

nancy's name would show up in error messages, of course, with the result that more than one of our customers at first mistook her for a very diligent employee. Even after they learned the truth--that nancy was just a faithful little server, naked and half-exposed in the server room after I was too lazy to replace the side panel of her case one day--customers would occasionally ask after her when we spoke on the phone. Clearly, I wasn't her only admirer. nancy returned our affection, happily staying up and operational for a year or two between being moved to new locations.

Eventually, the burden of continual abuse by spammers and the growing size of email messages meant that nancy could no longer serve so many customers. Yet, she continued to serve in some capacity on our network through three companies, in three offices, over ten years--long after her hardware had been depreciated on the books. Toward the end of her days, nancy was semi-retired, serving as an email, DNS, and shell server on our office LAN, but devoting most of her CPU cycles to cracking RC5.

Which brings us to now. As of today, nancy will be retired. She's still just as reliable as ever (yes, amazingly, she's still running on her original hardware, hard drive included!), but we're working on making our business as "green" as possible, and sadly she no longer does enough work to justify her carbon footprint.

So, farewell nancy, my faithful server! May you dream of penguins as you slumber. And, who knows? Maybe one of your new, fancy brethren will have a bad day and you'll get called out of retirement one day... If so, I know you'll be as ready as ever.

[/it/linux] permanent link

Tue, 01 May 2007

Save Internet Radio

Internet "radio" needs your help!

Many web streams, like my own Swinglover's Lounge, will be silenced unless something is done soon...

[/music] permanent link

Mon, 30 Apr 2007

A Fun Math Puzzle from Make Magazine

meta-creation_date:04/05/2007

For those with time left over after turning their old toasters into robots, the awesome magazone Make also has a puzzle section. I particularly enjoyed this one from issue #9:

At one point, a tropical island's population of chameleons was divided as follows:

13 red chameleons
15 green chameleons
17 blue chameleons

Each time two different-colored chameleons would meet, they would change their color to the third one. For example, if green meets red, they both change their color to blue. Is it ever possible for all the chameleons to become the same color?

There's an answer posted on the Make web site, but (spoiler alert!) I took a different, inductive approach that appeals to me a bit more:

Consider an island population of n chameleons at time t of Pt = (Rt, Gt, Bt), where Rt, Gt, and Bt are the number of red, green, and blue chameleons at time t, respectively. We show by induction that if the population consists of n red chameleons, then the population must have always contained an equal number of blue and green chameleons.

Let k = 0 and suppose that at time t = t -k , Rt-k = n = n-2k. Then Gt-k = Bt-k = 0 = 2k. That is, Pt-k = (n,0,0) = (n-2k,k,k).

For k>=0, if Pt-k = (n-2k,k,k), then by the statement of the problem Pt-(k+1) = (n-2(k+1),k+1,k+1). That is, if we have n-2k red chameleons, it must be the case that immediately before we had n-2(k+1) red chameleons and then one green chameleon met one blue chameleon and the two of them changed color to blue, reducing the number of green and blue chameleons from k+1 each to k each.

So, to end up with a population of all red chameleons, we must have started with a population containing an equal number of green and blue chameleons; which we didn't, so we can never end up with all red chameleons.

The argument for why we can't end up with all green or all blue chameleons proceeds the same way.

[/science] permanent link

Mon, 05 Feb 2007

Check Out Girl

Oh, Check Out Girl, you rock my world!

(C.f. the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest website.)

[/fun] permanent link

Wed, 31 Jan 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, RIP

A bit late with the news, but... Robert Anton Wilson's own personal eschaton was immanentized on January 11, 2007. A memorial is planned for February 18 in Santa Cruz.

What can I say about RAW that hasn't already been said more surrealistically by someone else? Perhaps the greatest tribute I can offer is simply that he, in the words of Eric Cartman, "warped my fragile little mind". Praise Eris!

[/people] permanent link


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