Well, I'm still alive. Busy as hell but alive.

I'm holding together from the weekend in DC. I've scheduled an appointment for a root canal this afternoon, which I'm not looking forward to but have to have peformed if I'm going to be able to go to that conference at the end of next week. Work's been kicking my ass lately; I spent most of Monday on the phone with the home office trying to get one of our servers which is bouncing like a tennis ball stable and usable, to no avail. There's a whole, long saga about this which I'm not in a position to talk about publically. Suffice it to say that you should be very, very careful with the business partners and third party companies that you pick to assist you in your business ventures, and don't be afraid to bitch, cry, scream, and even sue their butts off to get what you are paying good money for.

Yesterday morning I dropped my car off at the garage for maintenance and had the shuttle (they've got a fleet of vans that will happily drop you off anywhere in the area afterward) drop me off at my old Lab, whereupon I set about excavating the two monsterous HP servers that were my severance from my last steady run of employment (2001-2002). We're in a jam at work at we need heavy iron, fast. Those two servers aren't much now in terms of CPU speed but they're not even close to fully tricked out, so we can turn them into monsterous boxes with only a little cash expenditure at this time. After digging them out (and I do mean 'digging' - they were so buried under stuff that had been moved onto that floor due to remodelling only the very top of the stack of boxen could be seen) I broke for lunch to wait for Tartan to arrive with his jeep.

We reconfigured a dolly kept in the garage for just such emergencies and maneuvered the two servers through the garage and lifted them into the back of the vehicle, after which we headed for the office to try to catch up a little before the meeting at the hosting company in Pittsburgh that the company will be moving some of its operations to. This was delayed for several hours due to what can best be described as a massive fuck-up on the part of our current hosting provider. The folks in the office and I spent a good hour tracking down the problem, to no avail. Puff went to bat for us with the company while the rest of us sat around chewing our nails and considering passing the hat to purchase a case of Guinness (registration for proof of age required). At last the server was up and running once more, and the three of us (Tartan, Puff, and myself) set out with the servers in tow.

Much of the afternoon was spent waiting for Skitch, who runs the facility, to get back to us because he was on the phone for most of it with more pressing matters to take care of (can't say I blame him, I'd do the same thing). We took the fifty cent tour of the facility (damn...), walked a couple of blocks in either direction to get coffee Fedora Core 3 on the box. There's a serious bug in the installation software regarding software RAID that I've only been able to work around by not setting up any software RAID/meta-disk devices at all, nor configuring any partitions as 0xFD (soft-RAID partitions). I've had to set up the soft-RAID metadevices entirely by hand, after the system's been set up and secured. It's a royal pain in the ass, and I really wish that the Fedora Core developers would get around to fixing this. I've only filed four bug reports in a year's time.. the bug lies in the fact that the installer doesn't wait for the meta-devices to finish synchronising before it tries to format them. Because of this, the installer tries to format an invalid 'disk' and dies.

All things considered, that was a lot more fun than the rest of my day...

Earlier this week, I made an appointment with Doctor Schrenker (2901 Mount Royal Boulevard; Glenshaw, PA; 15116; telephone number 412-486-8991) to have the molar I'd broken examined; I'd made the appointment knowing that I'd have to have a root canal, in all probability. I left work early to go to his office and dropped off the dental x-rays that the dentist in Maryland had taken last weekend. Dr. Schrenker and I discussed possible avenues of treatment, such as having the tooth extracted and replaced with an implant or a prosthetic bridge. I'm not wild about having a bridge made because I've seen what happens when they are worn for too long; someone I know had one for most of her life and wound up losing all of her teeth because they place a lot of structural stress on the surrounding teeth, and eventually the connective tissues wear out and give way. The dental implant route sounds good to me, save that I'm being sent to a conference in two weeks' time and my jaw won't have time to fully healed. Being several hundred miles away from home if something bad happens doesn't appeal to me. For the forseeable future, that option's out.

So we went ahead with the root canal.

The procedure wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it was far from pleasant. In a nutshell (and I'll try to not be too graphic about it), Dr. Schrenker shot seven or eight syringes worth of novocaine into the nerve trunk in the left-hand side of the mandible throughout the entire procedure and knocked the entire quadrant of my face offline. I lost count about an hour into the procedure, so I really don't know how much he used, I was only thankful that he'd taken the whole complex out. Then he drilled a working port through the existing filling and began the process of removing the pulp and nerves from the inside of the tooth. I don't know how long this took, but it felt like a fair whack of the history of the moon. I noticed that he used a few dental picks and an entire set of very tiny files, many shaped like the drill bits you'd use when fabricating a circuit board to dig the organic structure out of my molar. At some point, we ran into an unforseen difficulty in the procedure, which I am given to understand that most folks won't run into. The difficulty was the fact that the tooth in question has an extra root (and thus, an extra root canal), and that the root canals are much longer than expected. One of the difficulties lie in locating a set of dental files/drill bits that were long enough to reach all the way to the bottoms of the canals. Before setting to work he pressed the standard issue latex rubber dam over the tooth, which not only catches the flying bits of pulp and nerve tissue but also keeps one from breathing bone dust, pulverised enamel, and the flying mist of saline solution used to irrigate the insides of the tooth. They're also damned uncomfortable and tend to make your jaws sore after a while.

A few times during the procedure, he injected novocaine directly into the nerve through the working port he'd drilled. This is probably going to be done to you if you have a root canal done, and let me tell you, you're going to about jump out of your skin the first two times it's done. It might not be painful, exactly (it wasn't for me), but the feeling of something hard and thin poking around inside a tooth is enough to make you catch your breath. It's something that you'd best handle, however - it's for the best.

Once the tooth was hollowed out, he packed it with calcium hydroxide, which is supposed to clean out the remaining organic material and assist in the healing process, and then plugged the working port with a temporary filling. Another appointment's been made for next Monday to replace the filling with a more permanant compound (probably ceramic) and affix a cap to the tooth.

I discovered something about my insurance today, which I wish I'd known about in Maryland, which would have saved me a hell of a lot of trouble. My corporate insurance includes a dental plan along with medical coverage. This is good. The company doesn't use Social Security numbers to identify its policy holders. This is good from a security standpoint, because it makes it harder for your identity to be stolen if someone gets hold of your insurance card or paperwork. As many insurance companies are doing these days, they're blacking out the first couple of digits of the policy holder's ID number (SSN or not). This is good. If, however, you try to use your policy (as I did), they're going to try to look up your SSN in the company's database and not find it, because they didn't use a real SSN. This is bad. As far as they're concerned, that policy doesn't exist. That's very bad, because they'll make you front the money for everything. That not only is bad, it downright sucks. Thankfully, the staff at Dr. Schrenker's helped me figure out what was going on, and got everything straightened out with the policy. Now I've got to contact the dentist in Maryland and get more paperwork faxed up to me so I can fill out the paperwork myself and hopefully be reimbursed.

I've been home since 1700 EST or so, after a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up more food that's soft enough to eat without having to worry about my new dental work. I've started taking the painkillers that I was prescribed when I was in Maryland, and aside from a little discomfort here and there I'm not feeling any pain. The painkillers, contrary to popular knowledge, doesn't have any pseudo-psychedelic effects on me. They just take the pain away.

So, now I've got to sit tight until Monday. I should be good to go for the conference.

Rumours about this have been going around the US troops who've come home for months. Interesting that it's finally made the newswires.

Bet you practice Wicca or Paganism or possibly more liberal Christianity. You probably love Dead Can Dance, anything ethereal, and might be vegetarian. You probably also like to hug people.

What kind of goth are you?
Created by ptocheia

Naah. I just don't take myself seriously.

Congratulations to Vlad II for going on his first fire call today.


Whiny little bitch.


I hate my lives.

On the way down to Maryland last night I stopped off for a soft pretzel and coffee at one of the maintenance plazas to keep my blood sugar up, and about ten minutes out from Midway felt a sickening "crunch!" that sank right to the pit of my stomach and sat there sullenly. At the time I could only suspect, but the emergency visit to the dentist this morning confirmed it: While I had not broken a filling, I did break a molar.

Aw, fuck. Root canal, here I come.

More to come later.

Okay... just to catch everyone up on how events transpired today, I called the customer service line of my dental insurance company late last night after getting in and found two dentists who accepted my insurance within a ten minute drive of Lyssa's place. While I slept this morning, Lyssa called an emergency dentist and hashed out details with with about my insurance plan and how bad of a situation I'd wound up in. The price tag for the consultation was considerable - they didn't take my insurance and would want me to pay the whole thing, better than $450us, up front.

I very nearly accepted those terms, but remembered that I have dental coverage (two policies, actually) and called one of the places I found last night. I got an appointment for 1030 EST this morning, and after some fumbling around managed to find the place (on the ground floor of an apartment building along with a barber shop, an investment consultant, and a few other places, oddly enough). After an x-ray and general checkup, the diagnosis was made: I didn't break the filling, but I did break the innermost remaining part of the tooth. There's only a 10% probability that the tooth itself is going to fold soon due to the size of the filling (bloody huge - I'm going to scan the X-ray and post it). My usual dentist back in Pittsburgh, Dr. Schrenker, told me that it'd need fixed permanantly one way or another within three years' time, and it is well within that time period. I am, however, going to need a root canal, a buildup, and a cap to get the tooth back in shape. The pulp of the tooth isn't exposed, so I'm safe for now, but better safe than sorry.

The projected recovery time of the root canal is about a day, so if I can get it scheduled soon, I'll be back on my game in time for not only Tekkoshocon but the conference I'm attending in about two weeks. I've got a pair of prescriptions for an antibiotic geared toward the sorts of bacteria in the mouth that go in for the roots of teeth to grow out of control and for a painkiller (which I hope that I don't have to use at all) that I tried to get filled tonight but wasn't able to because the 24 hour CVS' pharmacy is closed.

Seeing as how I've been there at 0130 EST a few times to pick up other prescriptions, I'm wondering what the heck happened. I'm not arguing too strenuously, however, because I'm not in any pain and doing pretty well at this moment.

After the good news from the dentist (sarcasm only partially intended) Lyssa and I met up with Rialian at Dream Wizards, one of the oldest gaming stores on the east coast. Their selection's broad, covering the newest and the oldest stuff, but limited (they've got a little of everything but not a lot of older stuff), and they also stock stuff from the Zendik Collective and a cross section of anime and manga related stuff, including imported soundtracks (with some rare ones, no less) and artbooks (several Utena artbooks among them). They also have extensive collections of Steve Jackson Games card games, including starter sets and boosters of Illuminati: New World Order; there's also a lot of Netrunner stuff there (though nothing from the Proteus expansion, which only I seem to have heard of).

A carefully chewed dinner was had at Mosaic Cuisine just down the block. If you've never had a waffle sandwich before, this is the place to start. Their prices are a little on the steep side ($7us for a waffle sandwich with chips or cole slaw), but quite tasty. I especially recommend the strawberry and caramel crepes for dessert. We also stopped at the Harry and David store (!!!) to nose their selection, which is considerable. If you can afford their wares, I highly recommend.. well.. most anything they carry.


Anthropology and archeology buffs who've been following the story of the discovery of the remains of ancient humanoids, which many are jokingly calling 'hobbits' on the island of Flores might want to take a look at this article on the topic. The findingings of the joint Australian/Indonesian team suggest more and more that the remains are not from deformed modern humans but an ancestral species of homo sapiens sapiens. Unfortunately, some of the remains were badly damaged while in the care and study of one Teuku Jacobs of Gadjah Mada University. As if that weren't enough, one of the jawbones suffered a poor attempt at reconstruction by Jacobs, which has left many facepalming. On the up-side, examination of the skulls leads researchers to conclude that the brains that once were suspended within the braincases was quite large for its time and highly complex. Tools found along with the skeletons also suggest that the 'hobbits' were intelligent and capable of designing useful tools and planning, reinforced by other evidence found in the cave along with the remains.

In other news, Intel has announced plans to cease production of its Pentium-4 line sometime this year in favour of the dual-core Pentium D and Pentium Extreme CPUs yet to be released (uhh.. guys? 'Pentium' comes from 'penta', meaning 'five'. How about picking a new name for that line of processor cores?) For the uninitiated, this means that their forthcoming lines of processors will actually have two processors in each module running in parallel - significant computing power on a single chip. They're hoping that these processor cores will hit the desktop, laptop, and high-performance server markets like nobody's business.

Maybe I should put off upgrading for a few months more.

A new bill has been introduced that would impose a penalty of five years in prison and fines of up to $250kus for setting up phishing websites. The reason for this is because some phishers (the number is unspecified) have been able to dodge prosecution under existing wire fraud and identity theft laws because they've been able to cover their tracks well enough to play the 'reasonable doubt' card.

A few days ago I wrote about the judge and one of the lawyers who were supposed to be involved in the tribunal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq being assassinated in a drive-by shooting. One of my readers wrote to me later that day to inform me that Ra'id Juhi really wasn't involved in the tribunal, early news reports gave the wrong name of the judge involved in the shooting. The identities of the judges involved remain (as far as I know) a secret to prevent just this sort of thing from happening; that's blown to hell because the name of one of the judges hit the newswires as a result, so now everyone and their backup knows who to go for first.

I feel bad about this; I feel partially responsible because I mentioned the story. I figured that naming the dead doesn't hurt much because, well, they're dead, and not much else can happen to them, but if they're not really dead...

It's a fine line.

Is it possible to crack down on political blogging in the United States? If this bill passes, it might become illegal to link to the websites of political campaigns in ways that they don't want you to; it also might become illegal to forward public information, such as press releases, to mailing lists. Doing so could run you a hefty fine in that event. The Federal Elections Commission is retrofitting laws already in place that govern US campaign finance law to encompass the Net at this time. In the fall of 2004, US district judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overturned a decision of the FEC that exempted net.activity from these laws. The debate is over whether or not linking to politically-related sites constitutes a contribution, which would allow it to fall under the control of those laws if it does. This really makes a difference if the person doing the linking has contributed their legal limit to the campaign. It's essentially asking what the value of a hyperlink is, monetarily speaking. The reason the debate is so strong is because right now the Net falls under the same exemption that print journalists have (writing articles about political campaigns isn't considered political contribution at this time).

Definitely one to keep an eye on.


As some of you may know, I've been working with Speakeasy to set up migration to new DSL service; for only ten dollars more every month, I'm getting quadruple the bandwidth that I did from Telerama, the ISP I'd been with since.. let me see.. 1995?

Ten years with the same ISP is a hell of a long time, let me tell you.

The thing is, 384/128k service was killing me, especially because I host a number of websites on the Network, and they pull a fair amount of traffic (oh, and here's a shout to the folks who hate cosplayers and link to my site to make fun of me - thanks for all the new readers, guys!), and it was time to move on to a service that could provide me with the bandwidth I need without going bankrupt. Speakeasy's neat in that they don't care what you do with your bandwidth as long as you don't cause trouble for anyone.

Late last night I set about altering config files all over the Network in preparation for the switchover sometime today. I'd altered my DNS records and reconfigured the firewall's interfaces and filtering rules for the new IP addresses and routing information, so all I had to do was switch some files around and restart a half-dozen services, and all would be well.

By the time I'd gotten out of the shower the blinkylights on Lain, my firewall, had gone out. Out of curiosity I set a packet monitor on the external interface of Lain and saw DNS traffic passing by, which meant that my link was active, but the addresses were not those of Telerama's servers, so I set about flipping switches and restarting DNS, and lo and behold I'm back.

The tricky part was changing my domain registration records. I go through Network Solutions (no link because I don't feel like their dropping my domain because they ego-searched themselves and saw these comments) for my domain registration; their service is decent, their prices pretty high, and their web interface for domain management the utter pits. The pages that actually let you alter the configuration of your domain are not right up front, but hidden behind four or five pages in the Customer Service section. If you follow their instructions, you'll start thinking that you've lost your mind because the links they point you to don't exist on that page. A simple operation (changing the IP addresses of the primary and secondary DNSes) took over an hour, most of which was spent trying to make heads and/or tails out of the maze of links.

It'll take a few days for the records to propagate, but everything seems to be up and running once more.

Results of a bandwidth test on my new link: 1.3 megabits down. Rock on.

More sabres are rattling on the international front as North Korea says that it will resume testing of its long-range missles, following an announcement on 10 February 2005 that they do indeed have nuclear capability. They've also announced that they are pulling out of the six-way disarmament talks, which include the US, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. As if that weren't enough, North Korea is also angry that they've been accused of being part of the Axis of Evil(tm), and are demanding an apology from George W. Bush.

But the US is more worried about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria.

Microsoft has managed to get a retrial for a court case that would have cost them $521mus in fines for patent infringement. Eolas Technologies and the University of California sued Microsoft last year for infringing a number of patents having to do with implementing web browser plugins. The courts threatened to not only fine the software giant but force them to re-work certain parts of the Internet Explorer web browser, as well as a number of other web browsers, but MS appealed to a higher court, citing and presenting prior art, in the form of a prototype web browser designed by a University of California student called Viola one year before the patent was issued. As a result, the patent is being reviewed by the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). Oddly enough, MS can patent stuff like basic functions of a CPU like "if not..then" and they don't even bat an eyelash.

In response to the broadcast flag legislation that will go into operation on 1 July 2005 (which mandates that all digital broadcast content must have a provision for a bit in the headers that says whether or not said content may be recorded or copied after recording; also, all devices capable of recieving such content must support this functionality; I've also just found out that the law prevents such devices from being (easily) user-modifiable, in the hope of keeping end-users from disabling the broadcast flag functionality of their TVs, video recorders, and other devices), a number of protestors got together at the Mission district offices of the EFF and held a television build-in, in which people constructed their own personal video recorders out of video input cards that ignore the broadcast flag (available until 1 July 2005 - check out PCHDTV.com for more information) and personal computers running Linux. The EFF has put up a homebrew PVR cookbook page, and you can also check out the homepage of MythTVfor the software they used to capture and view television content.

If that's not enough to make your head spin, check this out: The US military is funding research into devices that can cause acute physical pain at a distance of up to two kilometres in human beings. Medical doctors, psychologists, and ethicists are wondering if this is a legitimate endeavour. Another class of nonlethal weapon called pulsed energy projectiles, is based upon using bursts of plasma (superheated gas) to throw people around without actually harming them (think of Jake's pistol in the TekWar novels). The pain-generating weapons are based upon the same principle, only they cause pain receptors in the body to misfire instead of imparting kinetic energy upon them.

Rather than take care of a teacher who debatably went too far with a student, the school board of Brick Township in New Jersey is trying to restrict wireless recording devices in its schools. The situation went like this: A number of students refused to stand for the United States' National Anthem (which is well within ther rights); the teacher in the classroom went off on them, and then yanked the chair out from under one of them. A student with a cameraphone recorded a video of the incident and uploaded it to the Net. This student was suspended from school, incidentally. "Appropriate administrative action" was taken, representatives of the school board said, which basically means that nothing's going to happen to the teacher, the student who was dumped on the floor is going to find the rest of his time in that school a living hell, and the student who recorded the whole thing is in deep shit.

Total cost to dig up documents pertaining to the activities of a number of high-ups in the Social Security Administration: $203,436.75us. So much for the Freedom of Information Act.

I've set up an experimental search engine for my site. It needs a lot of work (it ignores the day-breaks in my memory logs, for example) but it's a start. Give it a shot and check it out.

Wouldn't you know it, the day I migrate to a new DSL provider, the sector of service that covers Pittsburgh got knocked out for a couple of hours. DSL, like fate, it not without a sense of irony, it seems.

This evening after dinner I decided to try to get some work in on my Tenjou Utena costume for Tekkoshocon. Dataline, also feeling the urge to be crafty, bought a sewing machine last night (which completely caught me by surprise; I'd been fighting with Lupa's for days and was about to give up and start playing around with the portable battery-powered sewing machine (which is going to Tekkoshocon with me, just in case) I'd also borrowed from Dataline) when she called me at work and told me that she'd gotten a good deal on a brand-new Kenmore portable sewing machine at Sears, and if I drove down to pick it up I could use it to finish my costume.

After dinner I darted out of the door and headed for the homefront to pick up the receipt and Sears card, then hit the pickup dock at the mall. The first thing I did after I got home was sit down and read the manual cover to cover twice, just to be sure that I knew what was what.

That might cost me geek points, but I'd rather know the rules before I start breaking them. I just need structure that way.

Anyway, once I'd learned what I could I set about practicing with some extra swatches of fabric, re-teaching myself how to use a sewing machine, run the thread, pin fabric, the whole nine yards (I'd learned back in junior high how to use a sewing machine, which was nearly fifteen years ago). Once I'd gotten comfortable with it, I put it away and read over the instructions for the fabric pattern one more time.

Tonight I actually set about putting the uniform together. I had to stop at Jo-Ann Fabric again to get more fusible interfacing (I didn't have enough for both lapels and the collar) and then figured out how to use it. The problem was that the travel iron I brought with me just wasn't cranking out enough heat to get the job done; I also wondered if I really was supposed to steam press the interfacing onto the fabric. A quick trip back to the homestead to borrow the clothes iron and consult dataline (yes, you do steam it on), and I was back home pressing and trying not to melt the heads of the pins. Everything turned out decently well, if I do say so myself. I also got some sewing on the machine in, in particular figuring out how to sew darts (inward-facing pleats in clothing to give it a three-dimensional shape), attaching the front of the jacket to the back, and the tops of the lapels to the collar. Unfortunately, at some point I broke the needle but didn't realise it, and it seems to have done a number on the fabric near the seam of the left shoulder. I don't know how it'll hold, so I'm taking extra precautions later on (in the form of a fabric reinforcement on the inside that bridges the mangled fabric and will hopefully prevent it from tearing itself apart) after I finish the seams. I think I can hide the stitches for the reinforcement under the blue parts of the jacket; time will tell.

If all goes according to plan, I should be done in another eight hours or so, counting pressing and finishing the seams. The blue trim's going to take some skull-sweat but I think I can do it by working from the patterns I've already got. It might be best to hand-sew them in place, though.

I've got to get me one of these... Golden Delicious, a My Little Pony.

..come on. The Golden Apple of Eris?

It just won't die!

You Are 64% Femme and 36% Butch!
80 - 100% Femme - You're the girly girl of the century. Or Clay Aiken. 60 - 79% Femme - Girl? Almost certainly. If not, you've got some major man boobs going on. 40 - 59% Femme - Girl or guy? Even your best friends can't figure this one out. 20 - 39% Femme - You are likely male, or the toughest, scariest lesbian around. 0 - 19% Femme - You are 100% male. You make cowboys look like pussies.
How Butch or Femme Are You? More Great Quizzes from Quiz Diva


Usually it's the arrested who get the firing squad: One of the judges and a lawyer who would have been part of the tribunal that was to try Saddam Hussein were gunned down in a drive-by yesterday. News reports are saying that there isn't a hard connection between the shootings and the poisitions of the two men but.. bullshit. If proponents of the old regeime will threaten people with automatic weapons to keep them from voting, they'll sure as hell be inclined to shoot a few of the folks who will be trying their old boss. Keep an eye on the news coming out of Iraq and see if any other killings match up with the tribunal's personnel.

Bill Gates has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Because he isn't a British citizen, he can't call himself 'Sir', but he does now have the right to use the initials 'KBE' (Knight-commander of the British Empire) after his name. Gates was knighted for his charity work as well as his contributions to enterprise in Britain.

I called the loan company yesterday morning and faxed in the documents they asked for so as to fix the screwup back in January that resulted in their getting four times as much money as I'd authorised. I called this morning and they had recieved the faxes (I got the number right - yay) and were working on it. Now the only thing I can do is just sit back and wait.

On 21 February I made reference to an article about journalists being targeted in Iraq by military forces. Another article's appeared on the topic, and it's got POV stuff from the hotel that was shelled by a US M1A1 Abrams tank on the morning of 8 April 2003. The official report was that they were mistaken for an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) unit, and acted accordingly. Even though it was ostensibly a mistake, most the records of the investigation are still kept secret. Those that can be gotten are heavily redacted. What can be discerned is that the investigation is a limited Commander's Inquiry, which consists of interviews of involved personnel and some personnel who are familiar with the individuals in question. The surviving journalists weren't even mentioned.

Remember the story about William Poole, the high school kid who got arrested for writing a horror story about a zombie invasion? A letter writing campaign to the New Yorker has begun to get them to purchase the rights to the story (which would help him post bail, incidentally) and publish it in their magazine. You can send them a letter from here: http://www.condenastmediakit.com/nyr/email.cfm

You can also contact Dodd Dixon, the mayor of Winchester, KY, which is the town William Poole lives in by writing to him here: Dodd Dixon, Mayor, City Hall, 32 Wall Street, Winchester, KY 40391. Mayor Dixon's telephone number is 1-859-744-9815, his fax line's number is 1-859-745-4590, and his e-mail address is ddixon (at) winchestersky (dot) (delete this) com.


I got a rude surprise last night.

I was going through my bills and reconciling my bank book with receipts and payment statements, when I noticed an anomaly: My student loan bill was $0.00us. It's normally around $150us. I headed to the website of my loan company to see what they had on file for me when I noticed that they'd receieved a payment in the amount of $800us for the month of February. I added up the numbers for my checking account, and discovered that I was $600us off.. which means that the cheques I'd written for my apartment's utilities might not be covered.


My next stop was the website of my bank, where they put high-resolution scans of each cheque you write up for each customer's account. Yep, I'd written out "two hundred dollars and 0/100" for the cheque they'd last cashed. The numerical value, however, read $800.00.

Double uh-oh. Either the bank or the loan company screwed up.

On the back of my student loan statement was an 800 number for their main office. After getting stuck in voice-mail menus for a half-hour I was informed that the office was closed and then disconnected. Thanks, guys.

Back to the bank website, where I printed out two copies of my cancelled cheque (front and back, complete with routing information for the loan company). This morning I navigated the voice menus once more and got to a human being. I have to fax them a copy of my cancelled cheque (no problem) and my bank statement that says that the wrong amount was deducted (again, no problem). I'm going to try to do that from work today.

From the frying pan to the fire: Human rights abuses continued under the interim Iraqi government after Saddam Hussein was deposed. According to the US State Department, illegal detentions, torture, and forced confessions were still the norm after Hussein was forced from office and captured by US forces. The government is still corrupt at all levels of power over there, the report also states. There were no jury trials; only hearings and punishments meted out with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Answer this honestly: Did you really think anything was going to change over there because Hussein was thrown out? Really?

Some engineers at the University of Pennsylvania are working on theories of practical invisibility that do not appear to violate any known laws of physics. Instead of using the chameleon principle (make a covering 'aware' of what's behind it (for some value of 'behind') and have it project as clear an image of it as possible) they're trying to figure out how to minimise the amount of light scattered or reflected from objects by generating something called a plasmon field (yeah, it sounds like something from Star Trek - it's when you get the valence electrons of the atoms of the surface of an object moving to a particular rhythm, and if that rhythm is close to the wavelengths and frequencies of the light you're trying to not reflect, the object won't reflect and so will be pretty close to invisible). Trying to generate such a field aside (I've no idea how you'd even begin to do such a thing), there are so many frequencies of visible light that it might not even be possible to screen all of them out. The amount of energy required to generate such a field is also something that they're not talking about; it may not even be practical. There is also no way of knowing if it would even be safe for the object or any people close to the field.

Still, it's an interesting problem in high-energy physics.

Microsoft ensures that users of Windows emulators can't get updates.. Film at eleven.

Anyone who's ever had the misfortune of using CPUs manufactured by Cyrix are no doubt aware of how much heat they generate - enough to burn if you're not careful. Someone's figured out how to get some use out of them (aside from as a space heater) and made a hotplate using Cyrix cores.


With regard to the massive snow storm that is supposed to hit the northeastern United States: As of 0946 EST, only a few tiny flakes are sporadically filtering down from the sky. Nothing of note yet.

Jef Raskin, thirty-first employee of Apple Computer and the man who inspired the MacIntosh passed away on Friday.

I find it interesting that an article on the state of the US public school system appeared only in an Asian newswire. The governors of the fifty United States are uniformly concerned at how poorly students are doing in public high schools, and no answers are forthcoming. The kids just can't do the work; more to the point, many of them don't want to, and are expending far more energy to dodge the work than they'd be spending to do so. The number of students who drop out of high school or fail out of college early is scarily high. Twelve states, at this time, are hatching plans to better groom students for college and get them there. I hate to say it, but Pennsylvania tried that in 1992-1994 with something they called Project Rigor, and it failed miserably. My district's graduation rate among the test population (the class of 1996) fell markedly.

The article goes on: For every one hundred freshmen in high school, only 68 graduate from high school on time (the article does not state how many fail or drop out) and only 18 of those graduate from college 'on time' (probably defined as four years; five-year programmes notwithstanding). Bill Gates actually had a point when he said that high schools don't teach kids what they need to know. They don't. I might be coming from a biased perspective but we didn't actually learn any history until the last year of high school; many classes were simply repeats of one another (thank you, standardised curricula); specialised vocation training was limited to vo-tech schooling (which meant that you weren't going to college; going vo-tech disqualified you from the college preparation classes); I could rant for hours about burned-out teachers but I really don't feel like airing that particular dirty laundry in this forum. Incidentally, I'd love to find out how many school districts make you pay for taking the AP (Advanced Placement) tests, but that's neither here nor there.

I don't actually have much to say on this topic that isn't a flat-out rant. I came from the public school system and was fucked over pretty thoroughly by it. The only things I really learned from it was how to be sneaky, Novell Netware (which is worth sweet frag all these days), emergency first aid, and how to manipulate bureaucracy to my advantage. Oh, and the Bill of Rights; thank you, my scary-as-hell civics teacher who could and did rant for hours on end about civil rights and liberties and the Constitution (you know the type; the wild-eyed Constitutionalist guy at the end of your block you collects guns, bitches about being in Korea and Vietnam (note I didn't say 'talks about'), and can make you stop and think very, very hard with a single sentence).

The plight of John Gilmore, who only wants to see the law that requires him to show ID to get on an airplane has made it to the mainstream press, in particular the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. On 4 July 2002, Gilmore went to the Oakland Airport in California to board a plane, and was asked by a clerk to present photo identification before he'd be allowed to get on board. He refused (you don't actually have to identify yourself if you're told to) and was told that it was the law. When he asked which law was relevant to the situation, he was told that it was sensitive security information, and they were not allowed to show him. Since when are we not allowed to know the laws that apply to life in the US? To date, no one has been able to show him this law; not lawyers, not judges, not legal scholars, not the government, no one.

I didn't know he was from Pennsylvania...

1141 EST: It's now actually visibly snowing.

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barbara Boxer, together with Representative Stephanie Tubbs have proposed a new bill, called the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 (what is it with all of these dorky names?) which mandates all electronic voting machines used in the United States will produce a verified paper receipt for every vote cast on them as well as voting access for every US citizen all across the board (something the last two elections have become famous for not having). The CEV Act would also have Election Day declared a federal holiday, which would theoretically mean that so many people would have the day off that they could go to the polls and vote; whether or not this would be enforced is anyone's guess. On top of that, people could register to vote on Election Day at the polls (this seems like a bad idea to me; as they say in Chicago, "Vote early and often.. even after you're dead.") and no-excuse absentee voting would be implemented (remember the many thousands of absentee votes that were thrown away by counters at the polls in the south in 2004?) The bill would also prevent state election officers and the owners and managers of voting hardware companies from taking part in certain politically-related activities.

Start writing to your senators and representatives and bend their ears to getthem to vote for this one.

It is steadily becoming less and less safe to write anything, especially overseas right now. A weblogger in Iran was sentenced to 14 years in prison because they said he was spying and aiding in revolutionary activities. Arash Sigarchi made the mistake of writing about the arrest and imprisonment of other webloggers in Iran not too long ago, and he caught the attention of the current Iranian regeime. Iran has gone so far as to limit net.access to many weblogging sites, including livejournal.com and blogger.com. Sigarchi is being used as an example to others who would criticise Iran, it appears.

My offer to host weblogs for people in weblog-unfriendly locations such as Iran and China still stands. I don't ask questions.

1416 EST: Yeah, it's snowing.


Keeping a diary, it seems, is a dangerous thing. An unnamed junior at the George Rogers Clark High School was arrested last Tuesday when his grandparents found a journal he'd been keeping for English class, in which he was outlining short stories, and turned it in to police, who then arrested him for making terroristic threats. Interestingly, the police completely ignored the fact that he was working on a story about an invasion of zombies. Does this mean that George Romero and Sam Raimi were threatening the United States of America (maybe I shouldn't give Them any ideas...) Two days after being arrested, the judge raised the bond to $5kus after the prosecutor asked for it.

Arrested for keeping a diary.

Well-read readers of mine will no doubt remember the following passage from the second chapter of 1984: "Only the Thought Police would read what he had written, before they wiped it out of existence and out of memory. How could you make appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could physically survive?"

This is a very, very frightening thing that has happened. They freaked out over a fictional piece written for a class and had a high school student arrested. What is next? Who is next?

Perhaps a little read up on artificial languages will slow them down a little. They can't bust you for what they can't read, can they?


It's not what you know, it's who you know. And what they're willing to let you get away with.


Due to the snow yesterday, many of us left work early, around 1600 EST, so as to get home before the roads got too bad. Not a bad idea.

The better part of ninety minutes later, I finally returned to the garden. After losing control of my car while trying to get up the hill (no harm, no foul) and creeping down the highway, my nerves were resonating like a pair of headphones within a ten mile radius of a KDKA broadcast tower. But all is well. I could have done without the doors of my car freezing shut last night, and scraping the windows down so I could see was just annoying.

Canada's feeling the lean from the US because they refused to sign on to the ballistic missile defense programme the US is trying to start back up. Potentially trade agreements might suffer because the US is being snubbed by the 800 pound gorilla (better snubbed than picked up and rent limb from limb). Paul Cellucci, the US ambassador to Canada, has manigimously stated that the US will defend Canada anyway, if push came to shove. You can check out the US' side of things here, at the Ballistic Missile Defense programme's website. For some reason, though, the old adage "Those who do not remember history will be condemned to repeat it" springs immediately to the forefront of my mind. Why? The latest tests of the system have been less than successful. There is a great deal of pressure on the contractors and the military to deploy the Star Wars system even though it hasn't been adequately tested or even debugged. The deployment schedule is hopelessly aggressive, which isn't giving anyone enough time to do the job to government specifications, let alone do the job well. The General Accounting Office (GAO in the linked reports) has been telling the organising team that it just isn't going to work, but they're not listening. Just like in the 1980's when Ronald Reagan was pushing for the same programme, with considerably less success than the last few tests.

To be fair, the project's had some success, but not nearly enough to bet the farm (or the US) on it. The cost overruns alone are horrendous.

I don't want to say that the jury for the latest Michael Jackson child molestation trial's been stacked or anything but this is suspicious, no matter what. One of the jurors (and two of the alternates) have visited the Neverland Ranch; one of the backups' mother-in-laws used to work as Jackson's housekeeper. I was under the impression that such ties to the defendant would disqualify one for serving on a jury in the United States...

Yes, I'm still stalking the Jeff Gannon case. Someone's compiled a movie of media coverage on this and put the file up here.

If you've been watching the Choicepoint's been owned saga, you're aware of the fact that the identifying information of several thousand people was stolen, identifying information that would make identity theft trivially easy for whomever was behind it. In response, the United States Senate has assembled a subcommittee and will be holding hearings on the topic of identity protection and theft in the near future. The question on the table is whether or not regulation of information brokering companies like Choicepoint is necessary (no shit, Skolnick); Senator Arlen Spector has agreed but nothing's been planned and scheduled yet (surprise, surprise). The numbers have increased since the breach of security was announced, incidentally; Choicepoint is saying that over 140k files have been illegally copied (the word 'dossier' doesn't seem like it would work though the dictionary definition is accurate) while the state government of California is estimating around half a million. As if that weren't enough, some of the identities of the people have already been stolen; people using one woman's background have been arrested in a number of states recently for charges ranging from prostitution to manslaughter.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Not only is Big Brother watching, but Big Brother can't seem to keep His siblings and in-laws out of His databases. I haven't decided which is worse.

On the ridiculous front, we've got speculation on the tsunami in December that makes me wonder what they're putting in the water supply. Geologists have built detailed virtual models of the geological and tectonic stresses, structures, and factors extant in the region and used the data gathered thus far to model what happened on the ocean floor... but I'm just not buying that subterranean neutron bombs were detonated to cause the tsunami.

Occam's Razor: When reasoning, don't make any more assumptions than you have to. Nuclear weapons buried in the fault lines are a hell of a stretch, especially without any hard evidence, or even soft evidence gathered along the way.

Folks who follow politics will be interested to know that 9.7k pages of more records pertaining to George W. Bush's first term as well as over 100k pages of records from Bill Clinton's two terms. Time to put on a pot of coffee.

And now something you won't hear on the news.

The contents of Paris Hilton's Sidekick are back! Warning: Very not work safe!


Last evening was spent helping Lupa and some friends move. She'd been having serious problems in her apartment building with an upstairs neighbor (I don't want to say that he threw loud parties, but I've heard some of his shindigs from the street while driving home) and her landlady offered her another apartment in a much more quiet part of town. So, to that end, Hasufin and I set about packing up Lupa's stuff, loading it into a number of trucks, and driving it across town to the new building. Moving the bed and box spring wound up being the most difficult part of the operation, followed by the dresser and its contents (some of which wound up on the street when an unsecured drawer flew out of the truck). Thankfully, the rest of the move went uneventfully, and nothing else was damaged. The dresser's going to have to be refinished but that was planned anyway.

Moving the animal parts was the most fun of all. Lupa has an extensive collection of animal parts, from pelts and skins to skulls and even a few mounted heads which she uses in her work and her art. A small group of neighborhood kids was practicing the art of the young (indolence) in the lobby of the building, and with each trip their eyes got bigger and bigger as they watched what we were carrying out to the trucks: A mounted deer's head with a nine-point rack; a mounted boar's head, mouth agape; a deer head and pelt; several crates of animal skulls (only Lupa knows exactly what she has)...

The expressions on their faces was entertaining, to say the least.

This morning, I awoke to a leaden sky and fine white flakes sifting down to coat the ground and everything else with a puffy layer of snow. After rubbing my eyes a few times and trying to reboot the rest of my cerebral cortex, I realised that it was indeed snowing, and that I'd have to find clothes appropriate for Pittsburgh at this time of year; I'd also need to marshall up my patience, because it is assured that at least one of the main roads between my Garden and the office would not be plowed, salted, or even driven upon since the snow started to fall. As it turned out, it was the side streets that I park on every morning that weren't cleared. I missed my usual turnoff by sliding down the hill past the intersection when my car skidded on the fresh snow.

Thankfully it's a one-way street, pointing downhill, so nothing bad came of it save having to circle around, slide again on an uncleared street, and give it another shot.

I knew I should have worked from home today.

System and network administrators are no doubt familiar with the singular hell that is trying to get workstations (and the odd server... which should be a hanging offense) infected with spyware working properly once more. Home users who have ever had a 2.5 GHz machine running like an 80486 due to multiple spyware infestations (and usually a worm or two) are nodding their heads sadly at this time. One of the worst varieties is the world-famous Gator, written and released by the Claria Corporation.

Why am I writing about this? D. Reed Freeman of the Claria Corporation is one of the appointees to the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Action Committee. Is anyone else cringing at the thought of the root of so much pain, suffering, and wasted compute cycles being charged with protecting the United States' information infrastructure?

Maybe he'll infect the terrorists' machines with Gator and keep them from doing much more than rebooting their laptops.

Going out of your way to purchase bottled water because it's supposed to be better for you is probably more a miss than a hit, especially when it comes to the stuff dissolved in the water that you don't know about.. take for example Dasani, which comes in the nifty blue-coloured plastic bottles. The Coca-Cola Company was taking water straight out of its main water supply, running it through a standard reverse-osmosis filter (which you might have installed under your kitchen sink), and dissolving various bromide compounds in it, followed by an infusion of ozone gas to alter the flavour slightly.

Net result? Bromate compounds in the water, some of which are carcinogenic.

Quite a far cry from 'pure bottled water'.

Amir Laty, Israeli diplomat sent to Australia, was kicked out after being caught trying to seduce high-level personnel, including diplomats, intelligence operatives (read, 'spies'), defense officers, and even a few Australian journallists. Why? His nineteen year history as an officer of Israeli intelligence. Everyone he was going for had access to classified information, or could give him access to same. Australian laws state that any government agents that have contact with foreign officials of any kind (including diplomats) must keep their superiors informed as to who it is and what's going on to prevent compromise of confidentiality. The Israeli diplomatic core and the Mossad are not saying anything to anyone about this, and are keeping Laty under wraps at this time.

Could this be happening in the United States? I wouldn't doubt it. It's entirely possible that at least one high-up at the Pentagon has been compromised by the Mossad, though. The name of the person hasn't been released because the investigation is in progress at this time, but he/she's been described as a desk officer of the Near East and South Asia Bureau, one of the six major regional departments of the Pentagon. Arrests, possibly for charges of espionage, are expected as early as next Monday.

Readers who keep in touch with the computer security community have probably heard about Someone Out There scanning for systems running SSH and trying to brute-force passwords. The attempts come in bursts from all over the Net, without any rhyme or reason. There are at least two tools used to do this, and probably more (SSH Scanner and Scan SSH). I discovered today that Nessus has at least one plugin that does the same thing when I was going through the logfiles on my workstation and found a boatload of SSH login attempts that fit the profile of the SSH scans. Not that this means much, mind you, only that folks out there who have been working on this for a while now know that there's another tool in use. The savvy are already aware of this; I hope I've saved some folks a message to a mailing list.

The usernames run by the scan are 4dgifts, jill, system, db2fenc1, db2as, root, date, guest, friday, db2inst1, backdoor, n3ssus, nonexistent36696808, bin, ro, rwa, ezsetup, glftpd, stoogr, demos, swift, hax0r, gamez, rewt, toor, wank, bash, jack, tutor, and outofbox.


Driving home from work yesterday, I was rudely reminded of a Pittsburgh truth: No matter where you are, no matter how fast you're going, someone will cross a busy street against the light just as you begin to turn and have the nerve to flag you off because you nearly ran them down.

Let me let you in on a little secret, pedestrians. It's well kept in other cities, but hasn't made it to the Steel City yet. When the "don't cross" sign is lit and/or you've got a red light from the direction you're trying to cross, DON'T CROSS THE BLOODY STREET. Motor vehicles have the right of way at that time, and they might not be able to jam on the brakes to keep from turning you into a heap of broken bones and mangled flesh. I was able to stop yesterday; the next guy might not be.. or just might not care and keep going on principle.

The court of appeals stated yesterday that the FCC had gone too far when it began writing legislation that makes it difficult to copy digital television broadcasts. Judge Harry Edwards said that "Selling televisions is not what the FCC is in the business of" on the topic of the FCC mandating that all manufacturers of television equipment must include circuitry that watches for the presence of a "don't copy" flag in the digital stream and prevents the recording or copying of recordings in their products. This circuitry must be present in all products by 1 July 2005. All of this bruhaha is meant to curb the trading of digital recordings of television programmes on the Net, which is a particular problem because the commercials are often edited out of the recordings, meaning less advertising revenue, nevermind the fact that these recordings introduce people to shows that might not otherwise get to see them, and often buy DVDs later as a result. Buffy and Charmed have dedicated fan followings for this reason.

For decades, people have been searching for the perfect hangover cure: A way to drink all you like without having to suffer for it the next day. With that in mind, I find it a little odd that a company called Spirit Sciences has developed RU-21 Red, a drug that keeps you drunk for longer. These guys are apparently ex-pharmacopiaests for what used to be the KGB, and did a lot of biochemical work for them during the cold war; their claim to fame is the neigh-mythical compound RU-21, which is supposed to knock a hangover out like a young Muhammed Ali on a bad day. RU-21 Red contains compounds which slow the metabolic breakdown of ethanol in the human body, so you need less alcohol to stay ferschickered longer.

LJ Friends Meme by

You must tell 23 people about this game.
Lyssa is the one that you love.
Eli is one you like but can't work out.
You care most about Alexius.
John is the one who knows you very well.
Lupa is your lucky star.
Think is the song that matches with Lyssa.
The Way I Live My Life is the song for Eli.
Angelic Creation, Namely, Light is the song that tells you most about YOUR mind.
and VALIS is the song telling you how you feel about life
Take this quiz


Have you ever gotten the feeling that you'd pissed someone important off? You know what I mean.. people stop talking to you.. you can't go places anymore.. sources dry up... after a short period of time, it becomes obvious to you. Case in point: Robert Ehrlich, Governor of Maryland, filed an edict in November of 2004 that states that no state officials are permitted to speak to a small number of reporters from the Baltimore Sun, namely David Nitkin and Michael Olesker. A lawsuit has been filed on their behalf because it discourages anyone who disagrees with the governor from saying anything for fear of repercussions from on high or losing access to what is legally defined as public information. The Baltimore Sun has published several articles that were critical of Ehrlich, and he's not happy about it at all.

And a lot more people are going to be unhappy with life shortly if this is accurate: Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector and author has stated that George W. Bush has signed documents ordering preparations for the bombing of Iran in June of 2005. He's also gone on the record as stating that the US was manipulating the elections in Iraq a few weeks ago. Iran's nuclear capability, be it for generating electricity or weapons grade uranium isotopes is considered a threat by the US government, and it's going to have to go. Whispers inside DC state that They (for some value of 'They') are hoping it'll lead to a change of regeime in Iran. This has been published by one Dahr Jamail, one of the few independent journalists in Iraq until recently; Jamail's articles may be read here.


Blowback from the compromise of T-Mobile's network is beginning to appear even though the culprit has been apprehended. Not too long ago the contact list of Paris Hilton's cellphone appeared on the Net and life's been hell ever since then. Not only her cellphone number but those of friends and associates have gotten into the hands of crackers, and phones are ringing off the hook all over the place. Here is one of the many mirrors that have been springing up.

Yiqun Lisa Chin has posted a three-page summary of the SHA-1 algorithm compromise to her site (it's the link at the very bottom of the page). No word yet on the full paper.

In case you're wondering why this furor about some cryptographic algorithm is such a big deal, check out the example in this post to Bugtraq and put yourself in the position of the defendent.

Microsoft's playing the patent game again - this time they're trying to patent a single operator in BASIC-like languages, called "IsNot". The operator, in a nutshell, performs a test to ensure that one value is not equal to another (as the name implies). RealSoftware, Incorporated and a number of other companies that maintain BASIC-like development environments fear that this patent could siphon millions of dollars out of their coffers in licensing fees. This particular test isn't native to BASIC only, it is, in fact a common operation in just about every programming language, from the machine language of every CPU on the planet to C, Perl, and Java. This could also prevent BASIC-like code from being ported to other platforms.

I'll leave the wise-ass remarks about BASIC not being the best language to program anything in (or even learn to program in) for the experts.

Remember the days of PCs when some manufacturers would rig up the most innocuous components, such as memory modules or hard drives, so that only the parts you bought from them would work, and the rest of the market be damned? Compaq/HP is doing it with their laptops. Trying to plug a third-party microPCI wireless adaptor into an nx9110 laptop failed becasuet the PCI ID of the card isn't listed as valid in the BIOS' internal table of 'approved components', and thus refuses to boot up. If the original goes, either you hope to buy a replacement someplace (stuff like this has a habit of going out of manufacture) or you're basically screwed. Thankfully, someone's already figured out how to hack the BIOS image to work around this. One Paul Sladen has already put together a list to help this effort.

Yeah, you can find all of this off of that one blog article, but I'm doing my part to try to push it toward the top of Google results.

It appears that XP Service Pack 2's firewalling capability has a hole that you can drive a truck through, in the form of a single registry key that implements its exception list (software that it doesn't try to restrict network-wise). Due to the default permissions on that registry key, any software can add itself to that key and not be blocked if it's designed to write to it.. like some spyware, it appears. Just one more thing to worry about, it appears.

This makes me want to set up an XP SP2 machine and write a local policy entry that'll lock it down.. then I could export it as a file that can be applied by anyone. I wonder if I have a copy anyplace...


Remember hearing about that weird plane that no one seems to know anything about, yet has been seen making its rounds from country to country? The one owned by a company that's owned by someone who doesn't seem to exist? MSNBC's got the goods on it.. One Khaled el_Masri was nabbed on New Year's Eve of 2003, handcuffed, and driven to a hotel. Three weeks later, he was flown on that jet to a facility in Afghanistan, where he was interrogated for months about the mosque he attended in his home country of Germany, then let go on a road just outside of the country of Macedonia. The news magazine Newsweek has gotten its collective hands on the flight plans of this phantom Boeing 737 - it shuttles detainees from interrogation facility to interrogation facility secretly. CIA representatives are, predictably, saying nothing. The amount of accountability that the Agency has to the people whose tax dollars fund its operations? Zero. The amount of accountability that the Agency has to the rest of the government? Epsilon.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Which Sin Are You?
Favourite Color
You are... Not a sin
This fun quiz by chibigarm - Taken 265130 Times.
New! Get Free Horoscopes from Kwiz.Biz

Not a Sin at all. Freelance alchemist, maybe.


Terrorism is a threat, yes, but using it to describe each and every natural event that can adversely affect human life is sensationalistic. The avian flu outbreak in the far side of the Pacific Rim is killing dozens of people and is hypothesised to have the potential of killing millions if it were to spread effectively. It appears to be a much stronger strain of the flu, as well, because it's ripping through populations of animals that were thought immune to the avian flu like a buzzsaw, and humans are beginning to fall under its onslaught as well. One Dr. Robert Webster of Saint Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, however, was quoted as saying that "This virus is playing its role as a natural bioterrorist."


Nature is nature... it does what it does because it tries to maintain a balance in the environment. Nature is made up of a multitude of cycles that are all interconnected, cycles which both support and check one another. Viruses that are inimical to life are part of those cycles because they not only cull the population but they also force lifeforms to develop stronger immune systems, traits which are passed down to later and later generations of lifeforms. The avian flu isn't a bioterrorist... come on... it's doing its job. It sucks, yes. It can kill people, yes. But it's been doing that for centuries. Before the avian flu, there have been other viruses and bacteria that have done the exact same thing.

Bill might not have inhaled but George did, and it's on tape.

This is one of the slickest decks I've seen in a long time. It's up on eBay Deutschland right now, and it's little more than a framework for the components that usually make up a computer made of wood with slots for the (exposed) parts and cable runs. You've got to see the images to make any sense of it (though the text is in German).

Attention fans of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence who are angry about how badly Dreamworks botched the subtitling of the Region-1 DVD release: It is now possible to send your disc back and get a copy of the v4.0 DVD for no cost. They've set up a page where you can request a mailer here: http://recp.rm05.net/servlet/SignUpForm?f=2318. In about two weeks' time they'll send you a package; put only the DVD disc into the package and send it back to them. In about two weeks, they'll ship you a copy with the corrected subtitle track. Thanks to Seaweb and Mu DeKatt on the serial-experiments-lain mailing list for the heads-up.

In response to the reported compromise of the SHA-1 message digest algorithm a few days ago, the PGP Corporation has announced that it will be moving to more secure versions of this algorithm in their implementation of digital signatures in PGP. The company states that this migration will be easy because it designs all of its products so that new algorithms can be installed and old ones depricated due to their modular structure. Backwards compatibility will be retained for decryption and verification of existing encrypted messages and signatures.

One of the rumours that's been flying around is that certain journalists in Iraq are being targetted by military forces for elimination. Some of the information that's come out of Iraq supports this; the raid on the hotel where a number of BBC correspondents were staying, for example. Others say that it's a load of dreck and anti-war propaganda. One thing's for certain, though: It's happening. I can't say who's doing it or why, but there's an article at the Guardian that draws together all of the reports of journalists being kidnapped, attacked, killed, or merely disappearing from the face of the planet without a trace. Journalists from France, Italy, the United States, Great Britain, and Iraq are all on the list, as well as a few other countries. Very few people in the US are talking about it; most people don't believe the original reporter who tried to break the story in the US. I say that you should look at this article, and examine at least some of the other articles this one links to, and make up your own mind.

Only in San Francisco.. I wish I could have seen this. The widow of Emperor Joshua Norton the first, monarch of the United States of America and protector of Mexico (requisat en pace, your Highness) made her thirty-first pilgrimage to his grave yesterday to pay her respects with her followers, drawn from San Francisco's best, brightest, most flaming, and most eccentric.

It 's comforting to say that 'practice makes perfect'....
You are 'Gregg shorthand'. Originally designed to
enable people to write faster, it is also very
useful for writing things which one does not
want other people to read, inasmuch as almost
no one knows shorthand any more. You know how important it is to do things
efficiently and on time. You also value your
privacy, and (unlike some people) you do not
pretend to be friends with just everyone; that
would be ridiculous. When you do make friends,
you take them seriously, and faithfully keep
what they confide in you to yourself.
Unfortunately, the work which you do (which is
very important, of course) sometimes keeps you
away from social activities, and you are often
lonely. Your problem is that Gregg shorthand
has been obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Funny thing is, I used to know Gregg shorthand.


I should be recuperating right now, but Genetik's just forwarded this to me: Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide at the age of 67. Thompson, who founded the 'gonzo' school of journalism in which the reported immerses him/her/itself in the topic of study instead of observing it from the sidelines, took his own life earlier tonight with a firearm. The famous author of such books as Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and Hell's Angels is no more.

Mr. Thompson, you'll be missed. This world, such as it is, is now much less in your passing. We'll knock one back for you at each con we go to, especially the Soldier of Fortune tradeshow this year.


The rights to the Fullmetal Alchemist novels and art book have been purchased by Viz, and will be released starting in October of 2005.

I've seen the art book - it's nothing to write home about. Save your money.

For those of you still wondering about that survey of high school students who think that the Bill of Rights gives people too much freedom, you can check out the specifics of that survey here. The survey was taken of 100,000 high school students, 8,000 high school teachers, and 500 principals and school administrators sampled from 544 schools around the United States. The key findings of the study are available from this site, breaking down the numbers for the answers for each question by category (students, teachers, principals, and adults). You can also download the results as a .pdf file to store for later. I suggest you take a good, hard look at them.. and then have a long talk with your children about the principles upon which this country was founded and why they are important.

Microsoft's website has a l33tspeak primer for parents, so that they can keep better tabs on what their kids are up to.. I guess no one remembers the dozens of l33tspeak translators that used to make the rounds of the BBS scene. No surprise.

I also suppose that no one remembers when you could be flamed off of a BBS for using l33tspeak because it meant that you were clueless but trying to pass yourself off as an 'elite computer hacker'.

Last night wound up being almost like a night from a late-night 1980's computer hacker movie in how it unfolded. I drove to the South Side to get together with some friends at the Beehive and somehow wound up there fully an hour early, which is a change of circumstance for me. Clad in a duster that's seen better geological eras and a hoodie, curled up in the back drinking coffee that you could power a racecar I spent the first part of the night reading Gibson and listening to the music playing over the Beehive's XM radio system - new wave and old-school goth. Where else could you hear Missing Persons back to back with Oingo Boingo?

I'm either a stereotype or a Shadowrun character. I'm not sure which.

People started arriving around 1920 EST last night, and after taking over the corner booth and finishing the caffeine, we hiked the two blocks to a diner to get dinner and warm up after the frigid night air. We were the only ones in the back (somehow) and had a good time with the waiter, who had an excellent sense of humour for the likes of us. The new folks sat against the wall and didn't say much, though I did try to keep lines of communication open with them.

Today, like yesterday, was one of those running around days, where you get a lot done and then run out of juice and stuff to take care of around the same time. I picked up my subscriptions from the comic shop (they'd been waiting there for me for a quarter-year, now) and a few things at the dollar store, then bought groceries for the week to come with the gift card I'd gotten for my birthday (thanks, mom).

The afternoon was spent messing around with the lock on my safe and downloading as much Fullmetal Alchemist manga as I could get my hands on before it all vanished due to Viz licensing it. Incidentally, I found the first FMA DVD at the comic store today. It's got four episodes on it (out of fifty-one) and was retailing there for about $25us. The DVD with the limited edition metal tin and the soundtrack was retailing for about $45us. I also found the time to throw five loads of laundry in and make dinner. The Iron Chef cooking sauces rock all known sheep, in particular the Orange Ginger sauce, which leaves the Garden smelling very nicely of, well, oranges and ginger.

I'm steadily coming to the conclusion that the ravages of Time are beginning to take a toll rivalling that of PennDOT's on my body, as rewired as it is. I can't keep going as long as I used to, anymore. When I was in high school I would think nothing of staying up until 0300 EST hacking on something or other and then getting up to go to school. Later, just staying up all night through college, going clubbing until 0230 EST, hanging out at Eat and Park afterward, and then going to work the next morning at 0800 EST with no ill effects. Now I can stay up until 0400 with great difficulty, and I sleep until noon the next day because my wetware demands REM sleep. I don't recall installing the garbage collector from Java v1.4 in my wetware...

What really gets to me is that travel wears me down the same way a beltsander wears down a styrofoam block. Going to HOPE every couple of years usually leaves me ill by the time I get back to Pittsburgh, usually with the flu or a summer cold that's pretending to be demonic posession. Same thing with Defcon. When I'm visiting Lyssa it might just be the hours we keep while I'm down there (diurnal.. mostly) or it might be the fact that I drive five hours each way, but it leaves me wiped out for the rest of the week no matter what. It's really starting to disturb me; I'm not really pushing myself at all, just driving around, and yet I feel like someone's been pummling me with a cinder block for days afterward. I don't understand why. I try to keep myself in decent shape. I don't just sit around and do nothing all day...

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Lupa's moving again - the situation with her neighbors has gotten to the point where her landlady's let her transfer to another of her buildings without breaking her lease. I don't want to say they're loud or anything but I heard them once or twice while driving back to the Garden.. from the street. To that end, she dropped off one of her pets, Tatzelwurm, last night to keep him/her safe while everything else gets shaken up. It's strange having that much organic life in the Garden - the place feels a lot warmer than it is right now. During my morning rounds, I fed her a couple of mealworms that had been rolled in a calcium supplement. Their container had been sitting on the floor all night (closed, of course) so they'd probably gone dormant from the cold. When I picked them up and dropped them in, they weren't exactly what you would call active, but I think the heat lamp will fix that shortly. Or at least it should.

Anyway, I just thought I'd bring that up.

Qwest Communications, which has been in financial difficulty for some time, is making overtures to pick up telecom provider MCI in the near future, though they haven't been successful yet. They offered $8bus for acquisition, but MCI has opted to accept the offer of $6.75bus from Verizon Communications, which is in much better waters at this point in time, though the reason given is that there would be less hassle from the SEC.

Does anyone else remember back in 1984 when the SEC broke AT&T up into a bunch of smaller companies because they had a monopoly, which violates Federal laws (not that they're enforced or anything - look at the judgement against Microsoft and see how many of the terms have come to pass)? All of the Baby Bells are slowly coalescing once more like the T-1000 after that bath of liquid nitrogen.

I don't know what to make of that. I don't really remember life under Ma Bell - I just know that we had to rent our phones from them (and still had to up until last year for obscure reasons) and that we had to clear new equipment through their CO before we could plug it in (like my modems). Long distance service is something else entirely. It's a very compeditive field price-wise, and all of the corporations in it are sharking for the most customers and the best possible deal that keeps them in business and their coffers full. Local service is hit or miss; where I am, it's Verizon or nothing. I don't know what the situation is like elsewhere, though I'm kind of curious about it. I wonder how the long-distance market's going to react to all of the smaller companies coming back together. A lot of the Baby Bells are long-distance companies first and foremost (like MCI and Sprint).

I don't know yet. I don't understand telco politics.

Yet more evidence that global warming is not only real but is a threat has made it to the news. Since the NOAA has begun monitoring oceanic conditions, the average water temperature of the world (that's a lot of water - seven oceans and I don't know how many seas) has gone up a little over one and one-half degrees in the past 40 years. That's not much until you factor in the fact that the average was computed from many thousands of samples all over the world, each showing a little part of a lot of area. Any change that noticable in a system that large is a pretty major change, and will have repercussions all over the place, as dictated by systems theory. Moreover, the composition of the atmosphere is slowly changing; levels of carbon dioxide are increasing faster than the limited vegetation on the planet can cope. These calculations have been repeated independently, and the results have been the same each time. If the changing weather patterns aren't enough to drive the point home, for gods' sake do your own research and look at the numbers yourself.

For those of you who are screaming that it's only a theory, please stop using the definition of the world 'theory' that you picked up from prime-time television and check the dictionary. You know who you are.

For once, I wish that people would stop and read the error messages they get all the way through before asking for help. When an error window pops up, it just might have helpful information for both you and the technician you call for assistance. For example, it might have the useful suggestion to put the Office installation CD-ROM in the drive so it can pull .cab files it needs from the disk. Unless you tell me that, however, I won't know to get the disk from the library before running up three flights of steps. I know that the vast majority of Windows error boxes either mean that there's nothing you can do or that you are now screwed, but it's not a good idea to assume.

Why is it always warmer in the bathroom than it is in the rest of the office?

The United States Senate has voted to ban employers and health insurance companies from using genetic information to help decide if employment or coverage will be granted. Because the genetic markers that can suggest or cause many genetic disorders (recessive and dominant traits, respectively) can now be detected through DNA sequencing, there is much concern over whether or not people will be declared liabilities and turned down over something they have no control over - their genetic heritage. Federal law now states that you cannot be discriminated against on this basis, as well as your age, sex (I won't get into the sex/gender controversy at this time), race, and/or national origin. The bill called the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, passed by a vote of 98 to 0. Way to go, folks: You actually did something right for a change.

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Thirty kilogrammes of plutonium is missing from the Stellafield Nuclear Power Plant in England. Authorities are saying that the highly toxic nuclear material (plutonium is a potent metabolic poison in addition to being highly radioactive) was probably misplaced due to an accounting error. The plant further stated that the amount of material missing was well within the acceptible amount for a facility of that size. Still, that is far from reassurring. Have you ever wondered what the situation is like in the United States that you're not aware of?

Anthropologists have just confirmed that remains found in Ethiopia are far older than originally thought, clocking in at 195k years before the common era. These remains are the oldest known signs of the existence of homo sapients found and verified via radioargon dating techniques to date. The estimated locations on the timeline of the appearance and sophistication of human culture, however, have not really changed.

The new Napster's copy protection scheme used on their pay-for-download .mp3 files has been broken. Basically, someone figured out that if you install a plugin for Winamp called Output Stacker (which works like the Disk Writer plugin for XMMS), you can play such a file and Winamp will write the audio out to the hard disk in the form of a .wav file, which can then be edited and re-encoded as a normal .mp3 file. People have been doing this for years to record net.audio streams, such as Live365.com netcasts.

Nicholas Jacobson, who was picked up in November of 2004 for cracking the network of mobile provider T-Mobile plead guilty to one count of intentionally accessing a protected computer and causing reckless damage, which is basically a fancy way of saying that he violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. T-Mobile has alerted only 400 of its customers whose personal information was accessed. Evidence at the trial suggests that Jacobson had access to the network for at least a year, though he actually made use of the access sporadically. Jacobson is looking at a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

In a move that's more on the part of the company than good sense, the InCom Corporation, which developed the RFID tracking system for students in Sutter, California, has cancelled the programme without warning. Earnie Graham, superintendent of the school district, was quoted as saying that he was disappointed and that he felt he'd let his staff down. The programme was put into place without the notification or consent of the parents of the students, which resulted in a firestorm of protest in the school district.

It's better that this happened before the district discovered that the system wouldn't really fix anything. If one of the students were to be kidnapped from the complex, the sensors could track them only as far as the perimeter of the building; they wouldn't be any help in tracing them, and it would be trivial for a kidnapper to tear the tag off. Similiarly, they'd be no help with the truancy problem because it would be easy to give the tag to a friend to carry around the school. No tag, no tracking. It wouldn't fix the vandalism/graffiti problem because the amount of time necessary to go to the bathroom and the amount of time necessary for a tagger to whip out a marker and scrawl on something aren't too different. If these schools are anything like the ones I came from, the amount of time necessary to start a fire and the amount of time necessary to go to the bathroom aren't too different, either.

The only news service BB wants you to need.

John Negroponte's appointment to the position of ambassador to Iraq leaves a bad taste in a lot of mouths when you factor in his human-rights track record. In the Honduras, where the United States was staging some of its Contra War ops in the 1980's, he permitted the kidnapping, torture, and execution of those he deemed 'subversives', all in violation of international law. Moreover, he denied that they were taking place when Congress was presented with evidence of what was happening; he also advised his subordinates to say nothing on the matters. He was also responsible for covering up some of the activities of the Honduran regeime of the time from official inquiry. Now he's the ambassador to Iraq, which as you know is a political powder keg at this point in time. His history makes me not want to trust him, to be frank.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the United States is in a buttload of trouble. And I don't just mean not knowing the definition of the word 'theory', and not knowing how to distinguish it from a hypothesis (hey, I learned something tonight..). Biology teachers are afraid to teach evolution because they're afraid of controversy, or worse, being canned. Geology and physics are coming under fire, too. The Hubble Space Telescope has been cut off and will be allowed to deorbit under its own power, resulting in its destruction early next year. We really are heading for another dark age.

Damn. Bloody. Skippy.


If anyone knows what's going on on route 28 south in Pittsburgh this morning, please drop me a line to tell me. I was stuck in traffic for the better part of two hours this morning, which is highly unusual for this part of the city. I think something happened down by the construction (or remains therof) but was not able to figure out what. After doubling back and taking an alternate (also clogged with traffic, probably from whatever happened on 28 south), I finally got to the office. Somehow, I managed to find parking. The whole time I was surfing the mid 100-MHz frequency band with one of my scanners but wasn't able to pick anything up. Maybe I'll finally get that buggywhip antenna for my car...

The Kyoto Accord, a world-wide treaty to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and thus reduce impact upon the environment goes into effect today. The United States, of course, refused to sign. Thirty-five nations in the world plus the European Union agreed to cut their production and emission of six gases that have been documented to adversely affect the delicate balance of chemicals and temperatures throughout the ecosystem by five percent.

Normally journalists in the United States do not have to reveal their sources for news stories because repercussions to those sources are known to happen (some people just don't like making it into the news), and no one likes to have blood on their hands. However, it has been ruled that two journalists must reveal who gave them information about a leak within the CIA that compromised the identities of two undercover operatives. Rumour has it that the Bush regeime itself leaked the names of those operatives, and Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine broke the story. The grand jury wants to know who told them about this, because it's a federal offense to blow the cover of an undercover agent. If they don't tell the grand jury how they found out, they could be put in jail for eighteen months for contempt of court.

The skies are full of things we don't expect to see, especially in Iran, it appears. Stories are flying over there about silver objects criscrossing the skies, and they could be US surveillance drones, like those that are used in Iraq to hunt for Al-Quaida operatives. The US has been making noises to the effect of making Iran their next target because they've got nuclear facilities over there, so they're understandably on the defensive.

If you haven't ridden in one of the hybrid cars yet, you're really missing out on a unique experience: Some friends of mine have hybrids, and in their cars I've gotten not only the smoothest ride ever (which is a hell of a lot to say if you've ever driven in Pennsylvania) but I've been amazed at the gas mileage: A trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC took about a half-tank of gas. Several such trips have had similiar results, so I'm not inclined to think it was a fluke. This is beginning to make folks higher up in the food chain worry, however: The state of California wants to tax people who have hybrids by making them put GPS tracking devices in their cars so they can be taxed based upon the miles driven and not the petrol they purchase. The state of Oregon has gone one step farther and is actually trying the idea on an experimental basis. The tax is levied each time you purchase petrol (hybrids do have to buy gas); a microprocessor in the fuel pump accesses the digital odometer of the car and uses the value therein to calculate the tax. Astute people should take note that this would, in all probability, be a radio frequency transmission. I will leave where I'm going with that as an exercise to the reader...

Scary news from Bruce Schneier: The SHA-1 message digest algorithm has been broken. A research team from Shandong University in China has discovered a method of generating sets of data that have the same hash value as other sets of data, meaning that you can have multiple files that give the same result.. which makes digital signatures that utilise the SHA-1 algorithm suspect, possibly unreliable. Their paper and evidence are out there but only a few people have copies of it right now. Once I get my hands on it, I'll post it so that everyone can read it. Some parts of the United States government are aware of this and are advising that everyone take a good, hard look at cryptographic systems in deployment now, and perhaps considering migration in the near future. Reducing the number of attempts to guess an alternate data set from 2^80 to 2^69 might not seem like much, but when you compare how long it would take to generate a match, 2^69 attempts is a much smaller, and much more computationally available period of time.

Ask a student about this sort of thing.

Tonight John and Lara took me out for my birthday for dinner at.. I want to say Chick-Fil-A, because it was fast food and chicken, though somewhat higher quality than Chick-Fil-A is. The name of the place didn't sink into my short term memory, which I suppose is some indication of the place. Anyway, it was good food and I actually rather enjoyed it.. this was before going to the advance screening of Constantine, based on DC Comics' Hellblazer, if you're not familiar with the name.

I'm not a Hellblazer fan; everything I know about it I know from reading Sandman, which is to say I don't know much at all about it. That said, I enjoyed it because it was an action movie with supernatural elements to it. I didn't enjoy it because it was a good movie, because it wasn't a good movie. It wasn't a downright bad movie, but it was definitely not one that's near the top of my list of favourites, unless you refer to the list of movies that I like to sit back and make fun of.

I'll try not to spoil it too much.

First of all.. Keanu Reeves forgot how to act after The Devil's Advocate and still hasn't remembered how. He does, however, play a good asshole, which John Constantine certainly is. He's got some good lines which are good straightlines for wisecracks from the audience. Hollywood felt compelled to give Constantine a plucky companion (says John); as to why, neither of us could quite fathom the reason. Thankfully, Constantine didn't go about slinging mojo as if he were one of the characters of Dragonball Z, which was a concern given the trailer.

The crucifix motif turned tacky by the halfway point.

Some of the scenes reminded me a great deal of the Underworld as described by White Wolf Games in Wraith. If you have ever wondered exactly what the maelstrom might look like, this movie will give you a good impression.

The angel Gabriel is just fucking hot.

The point-of-view-flying-through-the-air sequence is straight out of Forever Knight; I found myself humming the theme at that point.

The scene in the boardroom left me with one thought which left me helpless in a fit of giggles: "Grant me the power to bring the world revolution!"

Oh, and John Constantine isn't an exorcist.


Happy birthday, mom.

I was still pretty fried from the trip to DC last weekend so I decided to stay local and take it easy last night. After dinner I wound up working some more on the prototype rings for my costume for Tekkoshocon; as it turns out, the brand-new block of silver Sculpey I had in my stash of craft supplies was just what I needed. After some false starts I decided to just go with a simple strip of clay, rolled out thinly and sized more or less to my finger, and in short order worked up eight of them (more attempts, more possible successes). Trying to take a mold of an existing ring didn't work out; trying to carve a block to shape (more or less) for later finishing hasn't been very succesful in the past, neither last night nor in previous weeks.

We'll see how well they work tomorrow night when I start playing around with them.

Alberto Gonzales was sworn in as the new Attorney General of the United States (that was a foregone conclusion), and he's already making waves: He wants to renew the USA PATRIOT Act, which is supposed to expire at the end of this year. MO5reover, he's trying to add a few new provisions to it.

A contractor hired by the government to rebuild in Iraq, Custer Battles LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) of Fairfax, Virginia is known to have defrauded the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq of millions of American Dollars and the US government is turning a blind eye to this. They were paid over $15mus to provide security services at Baghdad International Airport when there was absolutely no air traffic entering or leaving that airport.. guarding an empty, unused complex is worth $15mus? Is that the equivelent of the Fifth Institute or something? Due to the military shakeup in Iraq, the CPA wasn't able to keep tight track of how money was flowing, but now that they've had a chance to catch their collective breath.. they're not happy.

My tax dollars went to this? I feel gypped.

In other pleasant news, a new strain of HIV is in the wild that is the most aggressive to date. This particular strain of the virus is resistant to all of the anti-AIDS drugs that they've thrown at the men infected with it; one of the men, who lives in New Jersey, was diagnosed in December of 2004, and just three months later now shows the full gamut of symptoms of the deadly disease. The outbreak has been traced back to this one man and his partners, many of whom were frequent users of methamphetamine (which is often injected intravenously, possibly with shared hypodermic needles).

On the software patent front, word's gotten around that Bill Gates tried to blackmail the Danish Prime Minister by threatening to lay off eight hundred employees of the company Navision if he continued to oppose the European Union's proposed software patent laws. It is said that the CEO of Philips also tried to pressure the Dutch government on the same front.

Choicepoint, which I've ranted about in the past, now has most of an omelette covering its corporate face because criminals posing as customers raided them for between 30k and 35k records in their databases. The corporation, which serves as an information brokerage service for whomever can pay to access records on just about every person living in the United States, notified thousands of people living in California that their records, which include Social Security and driver's licence numbers, were accessed by persons unknown who had set up fifty shell corporations registered as customers to cover their tracks. Because California state law mandates that such breaches of security must be announced, it's anyone's guess as to whether or not records for other states were compromised.. the rest of the country may never know. The best advice that Choicepoint has is "continue to check your credit reports frequently for the next year." They won't even release details relevant to the people whose identities they have by the short and curlies because it might compromise the case.

Thanks heaps, guys. Way to perform due dilligence and make sure that your data isn't misused.

I'd find this amusing if I didn't think people would take it seriously.

Stuff like this makes me wonder if some psychiatrists aren't sampling their own pharmaceuticals a little too heavily on their lunch hour. The article opens with the tale of the son of one Jennifer DeWeese and the 'problems' he was having: Irritability, sleeping short periods of time, and getting cranky whenever his routine changed.

Sounds like your average munchkin, no?

No.. this 4 1/2 year old child was diagnosed as manic-depressive.

Later, his sister, one year older was diagnosed as bipolar as well.

DeWeese says that her divorce from their father and her own hospitalisations for kidney disease affected her children adversely.

Children not even old enough to tie their shoelaces are being put on powerful psychotropics that were designed for the neurochemistry of an adult. Side effects include obesity, diabetes, hormonal disruptions (which can adversely impact the normal human growth pattern), and even death. Other drugs prescribed weren't even designed for mental disorders but other conditions, such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy. What these drugs are doing to the development of the central nervous system of these kids is anybody's guess; the brains of children aren't fully developed, and if you go messing around with them in this delicate state, you'll impair the growth and activity of the seat of human consciousness. Now we've got eighteen-month old babies on Prozac and Lithium.. ever wonder if maybe this is why the US is in the state it's in? Now we've got kids running around blowing each other away as if life is little more than a trinket won at a state fair. Maybe what these kids need is a little patience and perhaps a crack across the ass for acting up when they bloody well know better.

I read this article thinking about some of the stuff these kids are reputed to do, like sassing teachers and disrupting life at home. If I tried that more than once when I was a kid, I wouldn't have been able to sit for a week because I'd have gotten a wooden spoon a couple of times across my ass. You know what? I never did that stuff again, and have trouble even considering doing it now. Why? I was taught in no uncertain terms that you don't do that shit. When you're at the dinner table, you sit and eat. When you're in class, you sit and let the teacher talk (even the obvious drones.. that's what hiding other textbooks inside textbooks is for). But you don't up and cause trouble.

It's called discipline, people. Drugs aren't a substitute for it. This "it's not a parenting issue" crap is just that.

But now I think I'll stop ranting. I feel, for whatever reason, like reflecting a little on life. As I sit here now, drinking a glass of white wine and munching on chocolate, for fully one half of me would celebrate in no other way than the traditional one, I can't help but think about everything that's happened in the past calendar year.

I've moved away from the family homestead and my laboratory, so carefully constructed over the years I've been here. I found an apartment of my own which I've moved into and set up in a manner both pleasing and useful to me (which I will one day take pictures of, I promise), and which I can now call home. I once again have pets, albeit of the piscine variety. I have plants now, too: An aloe vera plant and a pothos plant, which I am told is very like myself in temperament (quiet, impossible to kill, and able to thrive just about anywhere). I found a new job which not only gives me the opportunity to learn but support myself comfortably and with little fear (being a temp isn't a stable life). I've made multiple drives on my own, both across the state of Pennsylvania and all over the eastern seaboard. I've begun working seriously toward a certification (the CISSP), which I hope to finally take once I've got enough money saved up. I've begun digging out and replacing all of the programming and conditioning that I've had stuck inside my head since high school, when I arrived here. I've fallen in love with someone whom I care for very much, and who accepts me for who and what I am. I've begun craft-type things again, and also picked up the saxophone from time to time in an attempt to start playing again (which I will start doing again soon, I swear).

I've grown another year older and wiser. I've made mistakes and I've learned from them. I've had some close shaves, too.

I rather like being twenty-seven, I think.

This evening after work I drove back to the homestead for dinner with Dataline, who shares my birthday. For a change this year we didn't do anything elaborate or expensive, we ordered pizza and sat with my grandfather and talked for the first time in a while. We talked so much we even forgot to bake the cake we'd so carefully planned out. My grandfather gave me a Giant Eagle gift card to buy groceries with (which will come in handy in the week to come). Dataline gave to me a Galileo thermometer, a copy of Evolution on DVD, and a leather (!!!) button-down shirt (which I plan on getting a lot of wear out of). Alexius and Taja stopped by to drop off their gifts, a stack of vintage Doctor Who fanzines (that noise you heard earlier tonight was me squeeing), carefully wrapped in archival plastic. I've got some reading to do soon...

While I was in DC this weekend past, Lyssa and I exchanged gifts for Valentine's day.. a watercolour card of a dark elf and a pair Marvel Super Special comic adaptations of two movies I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a fan of, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and David Lynch's Dune. For my birthday, she'd commissioned a drawing of Morpheus and Titania from Neil Gaiman's Sandman from M.W.Kowds (I think - I'm having trouble with the signature), who did some of the covers for another of Gaiman's series, The Books of Magic.

Thank you, everyone. Thank you very much.

In case anyone out there would like to check out Fullmetal Alchemist before it plays one episode at a time (dubbed) on the Cartoon Network, check out this BitTorrent tracker. And in case you're having problems with some Torrents, maybe you've got the same 'problem' that a lot of the Gnutella nets have, and that's an old client. Welcome to the upgrade treadmill.


Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

What a weekend.. I drove down to DC to visit Lyssa for Valentine's Day weekend and wound up getting more done than I thought I would. The components for her new computer arrived and I rode shotgun with her while she assembled everything. Her first attempt last week was less than successful - something kept causing the Windows installer to bluescreen (the text mode, first stage installer, mind you), and it wasn't immediately apparent what the underlying cause was. As it turned out, it was the fault of her new mainboard's disk interfaces.

Lyssa's new mainboard has the capability to handle storage out the wazoo: One standard parallel ATA drive chain, two parallel ATA drive chains attached to a hardware RAID controller, and four serial ATA interfaces. Maximum disk space: The gods only know; bring your chequebook.

The mainboard's firmware seems to have a bug in it, though: If you connect a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive to any drive channel but the primary parallel ATA chain, however, the system may not boot up stably. We managed to get the new system to boot but the installer bluescreened. By pulling all of the drive bays and connecting the DVD-ROM drive as the slave on the primary chain, everything worked fine. Once Windows was installed and configured with sane defaults, we spent the next nine hours trying to install service pack two for Windows XP; that in itself was a singular hell that required much hacking of the Windows registry.

Around 0400 EST Saturday morning, Lyssa and I crashed for the next eight hours or therabouts. After waking up we spent more time trying to get Windows patched and set up safely, then got dressed and headed to the diner for a late lunch and a chance to stretch our legs. After a meal of fine college-town Greek fare, we attempted to drive to Target to get a new keyboard and mouse for Alphonse, and spent the next hour stuck in the traffic jam known as the Target parking lot after deciding that we were just going to give up and head home. More hacking and tracing connections inside Alphonse's chassis was done to connect the last of the system monitors (thermistors all over the place!) and cooling fans (two came standard with the chassis). Lyssa and I drove out to Franklin's for Valentine's Day dinner after we got the last of the leads in place. Franklin's is probably one of my favourite restaurants in the area; the food is expensive but good and well worth the price. The place was packed by 1800 EST, and we killed time wandering around the store on the side of the building until a booth was found for us. They've got lots of neat stuff in their (country-style) store, like candy in bulk, toys and novelties for kids, and all sorts of microbrews in the back. The service, once we were seated, was fast and competant, which is a surprising amount to get for one of the busiest weekends of the year. It'll probably be SRO tonight.

We stopped back at Lyssa's apartment briefly after dinner and drove out to Rialian's place in Maryland to spend the evening with everyone. Rialian and Helen were brewing up a new batch of mead, and they'd invited some folks over to join in the fun. Lyssa and I arrived late, so we missed the batch but we did get to hang out with a house full of folks and cats. And reptiles of various kinds, but I only got to see the one lizard in the living room.

Rialian's mead is powerful stuff. It's not strong in a "this tastes like Everclear and bleach" kind of way, but in a "Hi, I want to be your friend, so I'll clock you with a tire iron between the eyes in ten minutes" kind of way. Drinking it doesn't make you feel inhebriated, but it does make you suddenly aware of the pulses in your temples and a gradual sense of well being.

Seven of us sat around that night talking about most everything you can think of (and a few that may have slipped your mind a while ago). We touched on everything from applied neurochemistry to prosthetics to some of the nastiest politics that I've ever been glad to have slipped through with nary a scratch. Rialian's place, I'm given to understand, is neat like that.

I think Lyssa and I eventually got home around 0300 EST Sunday morning, and fell asleep around 0345 EST. We slept straight through until noon or therabouts, at which time I made breakfast for us, as I'd promised. It's been years since I made bacon, however (I try to avoid pork as a rule) so it rendered down as it should have.. and then burned. Thankfully, there was still bacon left in the package, so we got that fried up and served without further incident. As we ate breakfast (well, lunch, at any rate) Alphonse busily copied files from Lili's old drive over to the new hard drives Lyssa had installed the day previous. That afternoon we headed out once again, this time to the grocery store to stock up, and spent a little more time together. Dinner consisted of leftovers from Franklin's the previous night and Friday night, and some stuff that we'd picked up from the grocery store.

Grocery store sushi, even vegetarian sushi, isn't worth it. Give me a good restaurant for sushi any day.

The drive home was thankfully unventful. I made it back into Pittsburgh by 2230 EST (almost on the nose) and crashed hard. That doesn't mean that I was actually able to fall asleep, mind you...

The Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee who was released a few weeks ago is now claiming that he was tortured, and is undergoing medical and psychological evaluation at this time. Mamduah Habib claims that, while incarcerated in Egypt by United States troops prior to his transfer to the infamous cuban military complex, he was beaten and electrocuted. The reasons for Habib's arrest and incarceration remain classified at this time.

Here's an interesting article about an open source electronic life system that uses evolutionary algorithm development to breed programmes that have taught themselves to perform simple arithmatic operations. Over ten years of development and analysis have gone into this project, which runs on a network of two hundred commodity machines in the basement of one of the buildings of Michigan State University. Unexpectedly, analysis of the programmes' evolution and colonial activity mirrors that of another project that has been studying cultures of e.coli bacteria in that the evolution of the elements of both environs follows nearly identical patterns: Lots of little changes and then a leap in functionality and complexity, repeated time and again.

Interestingly, staunch Creationists have been downloading the codebase for years to try to find holes in evolutionary theory.

The United States Patent Office has denied a patient for the genome of a chimaera, a human/animal hybrid that has not, to date, yet been grown. In a surprising show of higher cerebral activity, the USPTO stated that the genome of the creature, which would be used for medical research is too similiar to that of a human being, and as such could not be patented.

Did George Bush have someone telling him what to say during the debates? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't matter now.

At a gathering of the World Economic Forum last week, one Eason Jordan, head of CNN's news division, stated that US troops specifically took out certain journalists because they were considered a threat. A few of them were employed by Al-Jazeera; one survived Abu Ghraib Prison and spoke about the circumstances of his incarceration and what happened during his time there. Definitely food for thought.

A few days ago I wrote a little bit about Jeff Gannon, who dropped out of sight in the Washington, DC journalism scene when it was exposed that he was a shill for the current regeime. As things turn out, his other means of income hadn't vanished completely (for gods' sake, don't look at this at work!). A man named Paul Leddy, who designed the gay porn and hookup sites that Jeff Gannon ran, came forward to link the two together. The sites are connected to something called the Bedrock Corporation, which Gannon is tied to. The article even has the invoices that were sent to the ultra-conservative Gannon in .pdf format (I've got a local copy in case that link dies). One of the sites, usmcpt.com, appears to have been a male escort service of some kind, if the archived version of the site is accurate. And let's not forget all the nude photographs Gannon had on his site... you can browse those from the article if you like.

Hypocracy has the lovely scent of burned semiconductors, does it not? Maybe he wasn't setting folks up after all, but playing one side against the other. Maybe it's really not him (though the photographs have been positively identified as Jeff Gannon, by both his face and the distinctive watch Gannon was known to wear).

Maybe the embarassment this would bring to the current regeime was enough to get him pitched out on his ear.


Back in Pittsburgh. More tomorrow.



It's official - North Korea is a nuclear power.

In a surprising turn of events, New York lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted of aiding and abetting terrorism for her role in smuggling messages for one of her clients (a suspected terrorist) out of jail. She was convicted on five counts of providing material assistance to terrorism and perjury following her April 2002 indictment. Stewart, age 65, faces 30 years in jail. Her client, one Abdel Rahman, has ties to an organisation called the Islamic Group, based out of Egypt, which has a history of terrorist activity overseas and is known to call for war against and the death of all Jews by all Muslims.

Bill HR-418, also called The Real ID Act was approved by the House of Representatives yesterday. Under these new laws, any and all ID cards that don't comply with federal regulations can be declared invalid and ignored for any purpose, including boarding planes or entering federal parks or buildings. The bill passed by a vote of 261 to 161. Features including digital photographs of the card's bearer, certain anti-counterfitting measures, and an electronic data store of some kind (a magnetic strip or an integrated microchip (smart cards) are acceptible, and other methods will no doubt be at least tested in the future) will be required. The DHS, of course, will draft the specifics. The thing is, this isn't going to slow terrorists down; take, for example, the 9/11 operatives who had valid, legal US identification when they crashed those planes. If they could get valid ID cards then, they can sure as hell get them after the Real ID Act is fully implemented. To issues those IDs, the states will demand proof of a valid Social Security Number (guess what those terrorists had...) as well as other identifying documentation that will be scanned into state-wide (and probably national) databases for archival. The bill also requires that all 50 states link their DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) databases for cross-referencing or they'll lose federal funding.

It used to be that hard science was the guiding force of the human race. By unravelling the mysteries of nature, we could come to better understand the workings of the world in which we live and the universe our planet floats around in. Science had the answers, or at least would show us the direction the answers lay in. Now, hard science is being manipulated by the corporations. Over two hundred researchers employed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service have come forward to say that they've been told to alter their findings before publishing to lessen the protections the law has afforded the environment so that the profits of a number of companies would not be impacted. Of 1400 scientists surveyed, 30% of them reported that they had been forced to change their reports to benefit the corporations; 50% of the researchers surveyed (there's probably some overlap here, though without more data I can't say for sure how much overlap there was) said that they knew specifically of times when the agendas of the corporations dictated the information published, instead of vice-versa.

In other news.. (I should make that a macro, I've been using it too much lately), an earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale hit parts of the state of Arkansas yesterday. Eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee were affected early yesterday morning. The quake's epicentre was computed to be 47 miles north-northwest of Memphis, TN. I bet that's the last place you expected a quake to be detected..

Jeff Gannon was known among journalists in Washington, DC for being pretty far inside the right wing and having a serious anti-gay agenda; his questions of George W. Bush reflected this time and again, and the observant noted that he would be called upon when other questions seemingly had Bush on the run. Something interesting was discovered recently: Technically, Jeff Gannon doesn't exist. It was discovered that his real name is J.D. Guckert, and he's got more than an agenda, he's got a plan going that makes people, gay and straight, wonder if he's not trying to set people up. Speculation was rampant that he was planted by the White House to defuse tense interviews and whip up support among the radical fringe. It turns out that 'Gannon' ran a number of extremely conservative websites as well as a number of gay porn and hookup sites (what a combination) specialising in attracting military personnel. On Wednesday, Gannon/Guckert resigned from the press corps and shut all of the sites down.

Now the question is, who has the lists of names of the folks who signed up for those websites?

Mental note: Start watching for mass discharges from the US military.

Here's some light reading for you: An article on JCS Conplan 0300-97, in which the Pentagon has been granted authorisation to to employ covert military units within the borders of the United States of America. Hasn't that been illegal since the Civil War? Furthermore, a new intelligence organisation called the Strategic Support Branch has been formed, under the direct command of Donald Rumsfeld (I can't really say I blame them - the CIA's had a reputation for being less than reliable since the1960's). I strongly suggest that everyone do a little research on the head of this organisation, Lieutenant General William Boykin. I think that you will find some of the data interesting...


Last night I got tied up at the Garden trying to get a lot of stuff done in a reasonably short period of time. Looking at my list of stuff to do before the end of the week, I noticed that there were a couple of things that needed to be taken care of that I would probably not get to tonight. I wrapped gifts for a few folks (for Valentine's Day and some birthdays next week), gathered up the stuff that I need to take down to Lyssa soon, did the dishes, and worked on the prototype ring blanks I kept putting off. After about an hour I'd made four more prototypes, each with a slightly different method of rolling out, cutting, and shaping and put them into the oven to harden. Mental note: Mixing Fimo and Sculpey (whoops) might not be a good idea. Once I've got everything figured out I'll use just the metallic silver Sculpey for the final rings.

The rings hardened decently, though are a bit on the soft side. I'm afraid to bake them for too long to keep from scorching the plastic. I'll try them on tonight and see what has to be done in the final version. Next stop: Sewing machine.

I also remembered to get some bottled water so I could top off the fish tank last evening. Since the spill into the river last week, I've been leery of drinking or using any of the water from the Pittsburgh Water Works, especially when fish are concerned. Proteus and Eris are swimming around happily.

Sorry, Puff - I got so wrapped up with everything else I forgot about last night.

You'd think that more people would pay attention to this - the FAA had no fewer than 52 warnings before 9/11, which they ignored. Their own security experts alerted them in advance about radical Islamic groups striking on US soil, says a recently released document (one of many, if you do keep up with the news). There are two versions of this 120 page report floating around, one classified and one unclassified.

It's stuff like this that makes me not want to fly - if they ignored those warnings, what else might they be ignoring?

This just in: IE6 on a fully patched Windows XP SP2 machine is vulnerable to the IDN vulnerability announced a few days ago.

A new trojan horse called BankAsh.A has been detected in the wild; its purpose is to capture and retransmit login credentials for personal banking websites. It was also designed specifically to hunt down and erase Microsoft's anti-spyware software on the machines it infects, erasing all of the files for the application if it detects them. Watch your backs, everyone.

In other news, Tecmo is suing some game hackers under the DMCA because they're taking copies of games they've purchased, such as Ninja Gaiden and tweaking them. There is also considerable controversy over whether or not this could prevent third parties from developing peripherals that let you alter gameplay (such as the Game Shark or the original Game Genie) or prevent gamers from sharing secret codes and easter eggs they've figured out in games. This reminds me of the lawsuits back in the 1980's over Galoob's Game Genie device, filed by Nintendo of America. In the end Galoob was allowed to release the Game Genie because the court decided that altering the code running in the memory and CPU of the game machine does not constitute an unauthorised derivative work and that fair use laws (17 USC § 107) protect such devices and runtime modifications. You can read the summary of that court case here (thanks to whomever beat me to the punch on Slashdot) for that link).

Someone's put up a petition pertaining to this case here.

Information on the Hagane no Reinkinjutsushi movie, Conquerer of Shambala has been posted.

Every state in the nation has hate-crime laws on the books, which protect minorities to one degree another legally from harassment, assault, losing your job for reason foo.. when they were turned into laws, millions rejoiced. In my home state of pennsylvania, however, a bill has been introduced to amend those laws such that gay, lesbian, and transgendered folk would no longer be protected. As if that weren't enough, hate crimes based upon someone's perceived ethnic background, disabilities, or gender would no longer be covered by these laws. In short, the hate-crime laws of Pennsylvania would be gutted, stuffed, and mounted, leaving only a hollow shell that can't really do anything. A number of conservative groups began lobbying to have the laws repealed or amended because they restricted free speech.

So let me get this straight.. it's an expression of free speech to throw a woman down a flight of steps because she's a woman? It's an expression of free speech to jump some guy leaving a club and kick the living hell out of him because he looks effeminate? It's free speech to spraypaint epithets on the garage of a Greek family?

Bullshit. A couple of special interest groups are taking advantage of a media circus in Philadelphia where an anti-gay protest resulted in a few of their members getting thrown in jail and winding up in court to say that the laws are too restrictive and need to be struck down. Rather than face the bad press thrown into their faces by a few members like responsible adults, they're twisting it to serve their own ends.

Volume one of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga is supposed to come out on 3 May 2005.

...the hell? Students in Sutter, CA are ordered to wear RFID tracking badges in school.. On 18 January 2005 the Brittan Elementary School mandated that all students wear these nametags, which allow them to be tracked wherever they go. The tags are supposed to reduce vandalism (someone tying their shoe and someone tagging on a wall look an awful lot alike on a display when you can only see a blip on an electronic map), simplify attendence-taking (just give your tag to a friend to carry around), and improve student safety (as long as the tag's on school grounds the sensors can pick up the RFID chip; once you leave school grounds, it's anyone's guess as to where you are). Students who refuse to wear the tags can be disciplined; I sincerely hope that they wind up suspending entire classes for boycotting these units. Apparantly, parents all over the district are up in arms over this, and the ACLU's been contacted.

I'm not going to rant and rave about this, oh no. Instead, what I'm going to do is ask all of you, my gentle readers, to think about something. I want you to think about a world in which you can be tracked everywhere you go. When you walk down the hall to go to the bathroom, your position (to the meter, for the sake of argument) is stored in a computer. Maybe someone sitting at a console watches you walk into the stall and not move for a few minutes, maybe it only goes into a database. When you go to Borders after work your path through the store is recorded by a computer. You walk past the tables of new releases and skip over the clearance tables. You spend fifteen minutes looking at the political science books, a half-hour browsing the computer books (by cross referencing your coordinates with a map of the store someone can tell that you were looking at books on computer security judging by what part of the shelf you stopped at). You leave the store, not finding anything, and go to the supermarket to get dinner; you pick up some organic fruits and vegetables and use your "advantage/bargin keyring tag" to get a few cents off on your transaction (come on, folks.. who really gets more than two bucks off of a $100us order with those things? I never have.), and the supermarket's computers dutifully use the unique number on that tag to record everything you bought. Someone with the right access (which can be purchased through an information brokering company for anywhere from a few tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars American) can figure out that you went to the store to buy organic food; are you maybe a hippie, or an anarchist who refuses to eat GM foodstuffs? When you go home you eat dinner and spend the night talking with some friends over AIM, ICQ, or IRC. Of course, all of your conversations are unencrypted, so just about anyone with a packet sniffer can record every byte you send or recieve.

Now ask yourself - am I okay with someone knowing exactly where I am at any given time and possibly figuring out what, exactly I'm doing, regardless of whether it's in the privacy of your own home or out and about? Are you really okay with someone effectively looking down at you day in and day out, writing down a summary of what you're doing? Do you really have absolutely no problem with someone deciding that your net.traffic and perhaps telephone conversations (remember - in the US your phone can be tapped without a warrant and without anyone being able to tell you about it thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act) are interesting or a threat and recording them without your knowing about it?

How about if I were the one monitoring every move? Would you be okay with some schmuck from Pittsburgh watching your every move because he can?

What makes it any better for a machine or a government agency to do the same thing? What makes it all right?


I remember using this stuff, or something very like it, on the keyboard of my Atari XEGS way back when (1995? 1996?)

What is it with people driving minivans or super-jeeps (I don't know exactly what to call those monstrosities that claim to be jeeps but are smaller than Hummers and are just shy of true bimbo boxen) thinking that they own the road? Driving down the street today, I had just pulled onto the highway and was merging into traffic when one of those suckers came out of nowhere and forced me back onto the ramp, in fact nearly grinding me against the median strip in his hurry. No turn signals; I couldn't see his head turning to check to see who might be around him; just one huge mother of a vehicle pushing me and the Trans Am behind me (who still drives those, anyway?) out of the left-hand lane and onto the shoulder.

My thanks for nearly becoming a highway sacrifice? A middle finger out of his drive's side window.

I returned the 'greeting' with change and continued on my merry way.

Something that I find amusing: Artists Against 419 (Scammers). In an attempt to drive 419 scammers out of business by driving their bandwidth bills up, they've linked to images all over a number of confirmed 419 scam websites to drive them out of business. They also advocate adding deep links to those graphics on your own sites to further drain their bandwidth.

Many bills are passing through the government at this time, and some of them will make you scratc your head if you take a close look at them. A bill specifically designed to make it harder for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children passed the House with a vote of 71 to 24. A $50us fine for people whose underwear shows over the waistband of their pants (supporting the sag, as it were) was proposed. A proposed amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriages passed with a vote of 30 to 10. A rescindment of the federal law that requires motorcycle riders to wear helmets did not pass with a vote of 46 to 51.

Nope, the Newton's not dead yet. Here's a picture of someone controlling their Mac Mini from a Newton Messagepad 2000 via VNC.

Most folks have probably heard of The Burning Man Festival out in the desert, in the form of either "Oh, that's so cool," "I love it there," "I wish I could go," or "That is blasphemy, pure and simple". This year is the 20th anniversary of Burning Man, and so many want to go that parents in San Francisco are trying to have the start of the school year pushed back so that they and their children can attend what promises to be the biggest, most interesting Burning Man yet. So far, the school board isn't budging, but it's not August 29th yet.

Choicepoint, Incorporated is an information brokering company known all over the world for its services: They've got incredible amounts on everyone and the pull to get more data if someone makes it worth their while, a copy of which goes into their voluminous records, of course. In just seven years they've built extensive files on people all over the United States. Lately they've become a de facto intelligence agency for the US government as well as corporate America, and to further that end is snapping up information analysis and data warehousing companies left and right, all to the end of extending their ability to manage and query all of this data. Since 2001, they've been contracted by the United States Department of Justice and the US Central Intelligence Agency, and possibly other governmental entities (though the paperwork hasn't been released yet; until then, there's no way of knowing). A big question is whether or not this information will be abused, in much the same way that J. Edgar Hoover and his files became famous. This information can affect your life in ways you never dreamed: Have you ever thought that you'd get fired because you smoke? Have you ever considered the possibility that you might not be allowed to buy a truck because you fit the profile of a truck bomber? You might.. some day soon.

Some of Choicepoint's sources of personal information make me a little afraid: They regularly purchase records from various chain stores. Right now, it's only for profiling shoplifting, but have you ever wondered what the privacy agreement for your Giant Eagle Advantage Card or CVS Customer Card was? Maybe they can sell your purchasing information to Choicepoint, or an information brokering company like them, maybe they can't but are thinking about it. That "subject to change without notice" clause can be a killer.

On the nuclear situation in Iran and the US' policy.


And now, a public service announcement:

97% of all e-mail traversing the Net today isn't protected in any way, shape or form. Just about anyone with a little computer knowledge can either monitor net.traffic as it goes over the wire, poke around in the mailspool of your mail server (if their privileges are high enough), or watch you download your e-mail to your laptop or home system. That's right, they can read your e-mail right along with you. Everything that you wrote in that message, and maybe some stuff that you wish you hadn't written is visible. This includes login names and passwords. If such an e-mail is intercepted, the spy can then log into the machine and do whatever they like, up to the limits of that account's privileges. If you don't want someone waltzing into your 0-day site and erasing all of your hard-downloaded warez, people, for gods' sake don't put login credentials in unencrypted e-mail. Use PGP or GnuPG to encrypt your e-mail.

For those of you trying to get hold of me (or keep in touch during the day) I've been busy at work with a fairly major crisis. I'm busy. If I don't get back to you, be patient.

Firefox is finally coming under the attention of bug-hunters, as the next few vulnerabilities will show. The first, referred to as firedragging, has to do with dragging an image from a web page onto your Windows desktop; an image that has been deliberately created as a hybrid of a .jpg and a batch file, let me clarify. The Windows execution environment ignores the image data as junk and runs the commands hidden in the malicious file. End result: Whatever an attacker wants to do on your machine can be done with a little trickery and a custom-written file. Firefox v1.0 and Mozilla v.1.7.5 are vulnerable.

The second is called fireflashing, and uses an installed Flash plugin to display the configuration page of Firefox v1.0 or Mozilla v1.7.5 and trick the user into altering some settings accidentally.

The third, referred to as firetabbing (geez, guys... what's with the names?), exploits a bug in the Mozilla Javascript execution engine, which normally does not allow Javascript sent from one site to interfere with another displayed page.. unless the Javascript's URL is dragged to another tab, in which case it sneaks through.

The fourth, called.... wait for it.... almost... a homograph attack uses character encoding to spoof bad sites underneath of another site's SSL certificate. A phisher could conceivably use Paypal's SSL certificate to verify a fraudlent site. Most of the Mozilla-based browsers (Mozilla and Firefox), Safari on MacOS, and Opera are vulnerable to this attack. To see if a URL you've opened is spoofed, double-click the contents of the URL bar, copy the text, and paste it into a notepad. If it looks strange (say, like a garbled version of the Paypal URL), you're being spoofed. Close the browser/window/tab and ignore it; don't enter any personal information, for Kibo's sake.

To fix Mozilla and Firefox, key the string 'about:config' into the URL bar of your browser. Scroll down until you see the term 'network.enableIDN' (the search function doesn't work for this but everything there is in alphabetical order) and double-click that term to set it to 'false'. There. You're good.

Stuff like this is what gives the United States a bad reputation. A number of organisations in the United States are sending money to sister groups in Canada to help them ensure that same-sex marriage does not become legal in that country. I find it ironic that one Patrick Korten, vice-president of the Knights of Columbus, was quoted as saying that "the family is too important." Stuff like this is preventing people who are very much in love with one another from becoming real families.

Families are families, regardless of if the members are heterosexual or homosexual.

They are printing up hundreds of thousands of postcards that people can sign and send in to the government, begging them to not legalise same-sex marriage. Tutorials on websites for lobbying the Canadian government for the same purpose are appearing here and there on the Net. The current debate is whether or not organisations in the United States should even be allowed to attempt to influence the policy of another country.

If we're going to stop this, we need to organise. These groups are collecting money and funnling it to the places and people where it will have the greatest effect. They've got members abroad who act acting in proxy for the people throwing their weight around. They're organised; they're printing up materials and mailing them out, and setting up websites teaching people how to lobby and how to make their voices heard. We've got to fight fire with fire.

...and this is why I don't have a webcam.


In a move that will no doubt bring warm fuzzies to IT staffs around the world, federal authorities in LA have dropped charges against the so-called DDoS mafia, Paul Ashley, Jonathan Hall, Joshua Schichtel, and Richard Roby. One Lee Graham Walker of the UK is still in custody. The DDoS Mafia was known for attacking computer networks with botnets of thousands of hosts for money, and costing the compeditors of CIT (Creative Internet Technologies), the primary employer of the group, millions of dollars. DDoS attacks were also made against a number of anti-spam blacklist groups on the Net. Reports state that the charges were dropped because the US government had not filed for indictment by a deadline. Rumour has it that these guys are being let go so they can be used as spies inside the computer underground, but I've not found any evidence to substantiate this. Anyone in the HPACV scene who has three neurons to hook together in series, however, is going to be wary of just this happening. That's why it's so hard to find an in thesee days.

At last, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise hectic as hell day: A cake that looksl ike rats have been eating it. It started out as a boxed yellow cake which was decorated nicely, and was then ripped up a little to make it look like it had been gnawed. The final touches, which I'm quite taken with, were a pair of rats sculpted out of brownies and decorated to resemble the recipient's pet rats. Faux feces (also made out of brownies) were added to the cake.

That brought a smile to my face.

Last year, certain parts of the USA PATRIOT Act were declared unconstitutional, in particular the parts that allow the FBI to strong-arm ISPs into turning over customer data without a court order and force them to never speak of the request. The Justice Department, of course, filed an appeal but caused the appeal to be sealed to the public. The reason this was ruled unconstitutional was that it denied the accused the ability to challenge the FBI in a court of law and cheated them out of their use of the rights granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The court realised what had happened and unsealed the documents. Ironically, the following quote was blacked out in the documents that had been released to the public:

"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.'"

That quote was from a ruling made by the Supreme Court in 1972.

Imprisoned bloggers tortured.. A number have come forward to talk about what happened to them.


It's been a weekend that's kept me busy, to be sure. Friday night I just sort of sat around and recuperated from last week. I'd been running short on sleep and between work and the cold, my hands weren't feeling too usable. As much as I love winter, the cold temperatures cut off the circulation in my hands and wrists, aggrivating the RST from too many years spent behind a keyboard. By keeping the temperature in the Garden turned up and avoiding keyboards of any kind, I've been able to get most of the feeling back in my fingers and hands, and the phantom pains are gone. I spent most of the evening watching the second Fushigi Yuugi boxed set (borrowed from Lyssa), reading, and working on the prototypes of the rose crest ring that I'm going to need for my costume for Tekkoshocon.

I tried two methods to make the prototypes, by cutting a block of Sculpey out of the package and roughly shaping it into a ring blank, and by working another block of Sculpey until soft and cutting another ring blank out. I found that the worked Sculpey was easier to work with, and tended to fracture less when cutting out the inside. The unworked ring blank chipped and broke in places when I was performing the initial shaping.

Prior to this I got a call from John and Lara, who wanted to hang out that night. I told them what I had in mind but would later join them, then drove to the supermarket to pick up a few things to make dinner that night.. and ran into them in the parking lot. We talked for about an hour as wel wandered around, then parted ways as I had to head back for dinner. I'd been hoping to make a few things that evening before the ingredients went bad in my fridge, so it was a race against time (of sorts).

That evening we shared a bottle of sweet apple wine (which was so tasty, the only thing I can compare it to is a fine mead), watched Hot Shots, and talked all night, something that the three of us rarely get to do anymore.

Saturdy morning I kept reasonably busy, though probably not as most people reckon it. I took things slow this weekend, doing some reading, doing a little cooking, and running to the fabric store where I picked up the pattern I'd decided upon earlier that week (see the entries for last week) along with the fabric I'll need for it. The woman who helped me went out of her way to work with me to get everything just right, and even helped me work out the alterations I'll have to make. I promised her that I'd stop back after Tekkoshocon either wearing the costume for her, or that I'd bring her pictures.

Saturday afternoon I spent watching more Fushigi Yuugi and doing the fine shaping on one of the ring blanks I'd made the night before. I learned a few things doing so: Sculpey is strong, strong stuff. The needle files I picked up at Hack Shack months ago do an excellent job of filing down hardened Sculpey but it can take a long, long time to shape the figure made. I would suggest shaping the Sculpey as much as you can while you work up the blank so that you don't have to do too much filing to size. When cutting out the hollow part for your finger (when making a ring), make it as close to size as you can before you bake it, otherwise you'll be there for weeks with needle files. I don't want to go to all that trouble for a dry run, so when I do break out the nice, silver Sculpey I'm going to do as much as I can first so I'll finish it in decent time. I'll probably do some work on them tomorrow night or the night after. I'm going to take my time and do as good a job as I can before baking the ring blank.

Come to think of it, I'm going to have to leave extra room for the clear varnish after I finish it, so it won't make it too tight.

Yes, I'm geeking over cosplaying. I've been of a mind to sit down and make something for a long time now, on the order of two or three months, and it's been getting stronger and stronger inside me until now. I forgot how much fun it was to make things; it's a real rush when you put forth time and effort to make something from scratch and, when it's all over, look it over and think to yourself "I made this."

I love making things. I don't often have the time to, but when I do have something firmly in mind I go all-out for it. It's a far, far cry from writing code or assembling a machine.

Anyway, around mid-afternoon Lara dropped John off and we drove out to Bredmold's place for the monthly Fading Suns game. Unlike last time, we got there in under twenty minutes, partially due to the lack of cars on the highway yesterday afternoon, and partially because John knows exactly how to get there.

For those of you who know John and/or myself, you now have permission to drop your jaws to the floor. Half of Team Ryoga actually found their destination without having to be talked in.

The game ran into late in the night, counting the run to the pizza parlour to pick up a couple of pies for six hungry gamers. I hadn't eaten since early that morning, so my body's craving for protein went nuts and I devoured a good five or six pieces of pizza before I knew it. On one hand, that bothers me greatly (where did my self-control go?) but on the other hand.. I'm really not too worried about it.

I spent quite a few years during college subsisting on very little food, all told. I'd finally made it to my goal of 150 pounds and I wanted to enjoy it as long as I could. The thing is.. 150 pounds when you're six-foot-one is too skinny for a male frame, let alone... whatever frame it is that my body has. Looking back over the pictures from that time, it's scary. I was really, really sallow, very unhealthy looking. I think I was pushing anorexia, at least at one point.

My body's now up around 165 pounds, and I actually feel pretty good about it. I don't get cold as easily as I used to anymore (though I still do feel it), and I have to say that I rather like the shape my body now has. My hair has also gotten thicker, and I have to shave less than I did before (thank you for your undocumented features, adipose tissue!).

I'm going to stop right here, before I start weirding anyone out (well, more than I usually do, anyway).

This morning I woke up feeling decent for the first time in a long while. I headed out to do the week's shopping, and discovered that it was a very mild day weather-wise, the first one in weeks. Of course, I had to roll the windows down and go for a drive to enjoy it. I also spent nearly an hour waiting in line for the drive-through car wash, because there were so many other people taking advantage of the nice weather as well. I even made an attempt at cleaning out the car, and did as well as I could without a vacuum cleaner.

My favourite workout pants, the neon purple ones that I've had since forever finally tore at the knee. I've had these as long as I've been here.

Congratulations, Mar!

Paul Robb opens fire on the InSoc "Very Best Of" album, and it's not pretty. And dead-on.


Here's a list of everyone who voted for Gonzales and how they voted. Did your call do any good?

You scored as Both. You're a 50/50 person! You are balanced and are a rare one.







Male or female?
created with QuizFarm.com

Long day today. I'll write about it when I get up.


Alberto Gonzales, known for convincing the Bush regieme that torture was the best way to get information out of people has been appointed Attorney General of the United States by a vote of 60-36. When questioned about his role in the development of the torture policy, he gave answers that were less than informative (read, he dodged the questions like a crackhead playing dodgeball) and also refused to state one way or another if the President of the United States is above the law. Rumour has it that he's being groomed for a position on the Supreme Court.

In other news, the Bush regieme is planning on spending $140bus over a decade's time on health insurance. The plan is to stop the states from getting more money from Medicaid, lowering prices on pharmaceuticals, and preventing senior citizens from giving away assets so they can get into the programme. Uh, guys? If Medicaid was worth a tinker's dam, people wouldn't have to do that! It's hard enough to get reimbursed for anything, and don't talk to me about paying for hospitalisation, because most people in this country can't afford it. The article goes on.. tax credits would be given to those who buy their own insurance. Tax credits don't help you pay your bills when you're paying $300us every month for health insurance, they only count at tax time. What a load of jetwash.

In Tokyo, Japan, the first death of a human from bovine spongiform encephalopathy was confirmed. The so-called 'mad cow disease', referred to as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease when humans contract it, is beginning to spread more and more rapidly, if you read the CDC's reports.

Something to keep an eye on in the near future is the debate over who owns weblogs. Specifically, who owns the content of weblogs, and how far is too far when writing updates. Information Week has put up a good article on the topic which I suggest that anyone who has a weblog or *journal take the time to read. It's very easy to say too much or to breach confidentiality, so great care must be taken when writing. For this reason, many companies have allowed employees to set up web logs on company servers so that they can enforce confidentiality.

Incidentally, there is also a weblog for the Committee to Protect Webloggers, becayse weblogs are considered dangerous enough in some countries (like Iraq, Iran, and China) that they are restricted. Can't have people thinking too much, can we?

To that end, if anyone in a country that restricts weblogging would like webspace to set one up, please e-mail me privately (using GPG or PGP, if at all possible) and we'll talk.

Word's gotten out (among the slightly mainstream media, at long last) about a new weapon to be deployed by the US in Iraq in September of 2005, assuming that it hasn't been done yet: A bill to stop taxpayer funded Government propaganda. Write your Senator now!

Okay, let me get this straight.. by 2018 CE, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. Isn't that an impossiblity?

Contrary to what they're saying over and over, the US was not founded on Christian principles. The references to God we know today (on US currency and in the Pledge of Alleigance) were added well after the country was founded (after 1865 and in 1954, respectively). Thomas Jefferson fought long and hard for the separation of church and state, to the contrary of the country's current regieme. James Madison, fourth president of the United States, was quoted in his memoirs as saying that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize."

Before taking the propaganda of the current regieme as (pardon the expression) gospel, do your homework and read up on your history. You're being had.

The best way I've seen yet to handle a case of coding munchies: Print out your sushi. I'm a little curdled at the price of one of his dinners, though ($240us per diner). Some of the other stuff that Cantu is working on, such as levitating food, is right out of Red Dwarf (smegheads know exactly what I'm talking about) or Omni Magazine. Personally, I find the idea of inside-out bread (cooked with a laser) kind of cool. The idea of growing plants that can thrive at the temperatures of liquid nitrogen, however... I'd love to see that happen. That would be a victory of bio-enginnering, developing plant life that can survive without any water (because it would be solid ice at those temperatures) inside their tissues and yet not be toxic to human physiology.


Today was the first day in a long while that it wasn't bitter, bone chillingly cold outside. I didn't have to spend twenty minutes scraping the scale of ice off of the windows while the engine ran to warm up, and the timing belt didn't shriek like a cacodaemon that someone's goosed with a lawn rake. All in all, it was quite pleasant this morning, if a mite on the chilly side. I wouldn't go walking around without a coat on, but you don't need an arctic parka, either.

Pay By Touch, the service by which you pay for purchases by pressing a fingertip to a biometric scanner, has gone live on the west coast. Cheques can also be cashed using this service because your fingerprint uniquely identifies you to the banks in question. The service is hyped as being free to the end user, and there are perks for using the service to pay for things, such as getting reward points that can later be redeemed for nifty stuff, such as gifts or frequent flyer miles. The company has been in existence since 2002, and has partnered with a number of large companies, among them IBM and Discover Financial Services.

The USA PATRIOT Act doesn't only have Americans afraid, the Canadian government is reworking some of its laws to limit what the PATRIOT Act can do inside of Canada. Specifically, they're altering Canadian law to limit how much of the data supplied to American firms doing business with federal departments in Ottawa the FBI can get access to. All Canadian agencies and departments were ordered to assess the risks incurred in releasing such information to the US government. One of their biggest worries is that the information will not be properly protected, and will be leaked for one reason or another. Because US law applies to Canadian organisations if they contract with US companies, they are trying to limit their legal liability.

A sophmore at the Sugarland High School in Texas was arrested for trying to sell test answers to other students that he had acquired by installing a hardware keylogger on a teacher's computer. The device was installed for four days in November of 2004, then retrieved and its contents were analysed to extract the test answers. In December of 2004 the school district's private security force was tipped off that a student was selling the answers. This is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by 180 days in jail (why not just make him go to school, it amounts to the same thing) and a $2kus fine.

At long last, the HAARP Project (High frequency Active Auroral Research Program) has shown concrete results of some kind (aside from being heard in the shortwave bands as far south as Nevada) in the form of an artificial aurora in the nighttime Alaska skies. The HAARP Project, which does practical research into heating the ionosphere of this planet by pumping megawatts of radio frequency radiation into the air in eerie sounding patterns to see what will happen, has long been a point of debate among electrical engineers, radio afficionados, and the fringe. A faint green glow was seen in addition to the aurora borealis a short time ago.

The epithet "shove it up your ass" is woefully falling into disuse in American culture. To wit, this, if nothing else, should revive it, even though Michael Warner will never be. Warner, age 58, was an alcoholic with a medical condition that made it impossible to swallow alcohol; his wife would give him enemas of alcoholic drinks so that they would be absorbed into his system. A few days ago, she administered to him an enema consisting of three litres of sherry. Warner expired with a verified blood/alcohol level of 0.47, over six times the concentration describing legal intoxication. His wife surrendered to police on Monday morning, and is out on $30kus bond.

Some of these guys make me want to blackmail NASA to accelerate the Mars colonisation programme several hundredfold.

Famous DJ Laurent Garnier has cancelled his United States tour due to the demands the US embassy was making upon him to permit him to enter the US. To grant Garnier a working visa, they asked him to produce, among other things, the details of his bank accounts, his mobile phone records, and dossiers on his family members.

Guys.. this isn't helping the US make friends in the international community. Does the phrase 'ugly American' mean anything to you twits?

Ladies and gentlemen, lifeforms of all ages.. the Sushi Pillow!

The list of the Top 10 Worst Corporations of 2004 is out. To summarise:

  1. Abbott Laboratories, for cranking up the prices of anti-HIV drugs, but not if you buy their special cocktail of drugs. Result: Buy all of their stuff or lose life expectancy.
  2. American International Group, Inc, for helping PNC Financial Services push $750mus of failed loans and VCI (venture capital investments) to subsidiaries so they don't look bad, and for recieving a punishment of "keep your nose clean for one year and we'll call it even."
  3. Coca-Cola, for abusing workers at their Columbia (South America) plant, and for nine murders connected with same.
  4. Dow Chemicals, for refusing to take any responsibility whatsoever for the release of toxic gasses from their Bhopal, India plant in 1984 which to this day is causing cancer, birth defects, and mental illness.
  5. GlaxoSmithKline, for covering up the side-effects of Paxil and getting away with it.
  6. Hardees, for the Thickburger.
  7. Merck, for knowing about the lethal side effects of Vioxx for a solid year before finally pulling it from the market.
  8. McWane, Inc, for utterly ignoring workplace safety regulations, going out of their way to hide safety reg violations from inspectors, and workplace violence.
  9. The Riggs Bank, for knowingly and illegally hiding the bank accounts of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and for ignoring the corruption connected with the bank accounts of the government of Equitorial Guinea for over two years.
  10. Everybody's favourite fungus Wal-Mart, for paying its employees as little as it can get away with without risking lawsuits.

Check out the report, it's bloody sick.

For you fan-folks out there, The Fullmetal Alchemist title generator.

I am now the Living Silicon Alchemist.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Salzburg 1756 -

A musical prodigy as a child,
Mozart began composing at age six. His talent
took him across Europe where he performed in
front of royalty. In his teenage years, Mozart
was fired by his commissioner, the Archbishop
of Salzburg, and he decided to become a
freelance composer. Mozart and his wife were
both spendthrifts, which caused them both
financial problems. Mozart died in poverty at
age 35 and was buried in a common cemetary. His
gravesite is unknown to this day.

Which Classical Music Composer Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Happy big-rodent-seeing-its-shadow-day.

It's said that the best insurance policy in the United States right now is to not get sick at all, due to the high costs of health insurance and medical care. If you're not covered by a patron of some kind (for example, if your employer doesn't have a health insurance plan for you) a simple illness can cost you thousands of dollars, and possibly drive you into bankruptcy. The story of Annette Ayers and her son comes immediately to mind. When you don't make a lot of money to begin with, meaning you can't really afford medical coverage, a three-day hospital stay can run up into the thousands of dollars, and very well might screw you for life. Of all of the bankruptcies filed in the United States over half of them are the result of the necessessity of medical care and loss of time at work. Scarily, it's mostly middle class like you and I that are winding up in this particular pickle, not the spendthrift or the poor. Sometimes health insurance just isn't enough; deductibles up in the thousands of dollars fall to the patient to pay off, and when you're laid up in the hospital you can't work.

Don't get sick.

Speaking of, my neighborhood was a pretty popular place last night. On the newswires yesterday afternoon I caught word of a housefire close to my stomping grounds that had drawn volunteer fire fighting squads from the neighboring boroughs to join in the effort. Driving home yesterday I hit traffic the likes of which I'd never seen down there. It was due to fire trucks parked along both sides of the street and hoses everywhere spraying water into the burned-out husk of what used to be a house, packed tightly between to apartment buildings that don't appear to have suffered any damage.

First the floods in September of 2004, and now this.

Eric S. Raymond has stepped down as head of the OSI. He will continue to do outreach work for the Open Source Initiative but will no longer be involved in the administration of the group. The OSI intends to expand the number of open source software providers it is in contact with and will begin to hammer out new standards and processes for the open source community at large. The OSI's legal staff will also be overhauled in the near future, to better give licensing advice.

There's been a debate raging for weeks now over whether or not webloggers can be considered journalists. There's an excellent article about the debate on the newswires right now. Apple Computers is suing a weblogger for leaking information about an upcoming product; the weblogger is citing journalistic integrity. I think that it depends on what you do with your weblog. If you go out and link to articles of interest to you and your circle of readers, that doesn't make you a journalist. Even if you write an analysis of the article or post a few links to other sources, that doesn't make you a journalist. I'm not a journalist. If you go out and gather information, write it up, and cite sources however, you're writing a news article, and I think that does make you a journalist. The key is whether or not you're writing something new and doing the legwork to back it up.

To get back to the story, however, the California court system is going to decide whether or not webloggers can enjoy the same legal protection that journalists have. This is a story to keep an eye on.

On the topic of stories and eyes, some Utah Highway Patrol officers are becoming certified phlebotomists so they can legally take blood samples from drivers they pull over, ostensibly for drunk driving.

Congress has given the Pentagon the go-ahead to not only pay informants but also recruit foreign paramilitary personnel. This directive is comprised of a single paragraph of an 800 page bill signed into law in October 2004, which was meant to allow the US military to depend less upon the Central Intelligence Agency, the reputation of which is far from sterling right now. A budget of $25mus per year has been approved as a result of this bill.


Last night was an interesting night: My pocket computer's power cell ran out, and I lost all of the data on the internal store. Net result: 21MiB of data for work, gone. Everything on the SD card was intact, though without the apps I could not access anything. I recharged my pocket computer yesterday, and spent most of last night copying the installation files over to my Zaurus and then setting up everything all over again. I was able to restore from the last backup I took (which was back in November of 2004 - I really screwed up there) and get to my data, but everything I added since then is lost.

From the international scene, the military tribunals held for detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been ruled unconstitutional. The detainees are legally entitled to challenge the terms of their detention. Judge Joyce Hens Green declared that "necessity does not negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years." Yesterday it was decided that 55 of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay had valid claims to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which strongly suggests that those detainees are American Citizens who 'disappeared'. The Bush administration has said that it will appeal the ruling as soon as possible.

I figured that this was so... Microsoft really didn't open its file formats to the public, the state of Massachusetts simply redefined the meaning of the phrase 'open file format'.


Sun Solaris 10 is out. You can download it for personal/educational use for free, so if you're trying to get that Sun box you bought at a vulture sale up and running or if you'd like to give it a spin to see for yourself, download the .iso images and set up your own box.

Fake redlight photo/tickets are going around, and there is not a little debate over whether it's legal to try to trick people into paying for tickets that they might not have earned. The legality of forcing people to identify the driver of cars is also up in the air. You might want to read this page closely and see if anything makes sense to you.. or see if maybe you've already paid that ticket...


If companies were run like this, we'd all be in trouble.. in a recent audit it was discovered that the United States lost track of $9bus sent to Iraq. It was determined that no control systems to monitor how money was spent were put in place before the payments were made to Iraqi ministries. Among the anomalies found was the presence of 8206 guards stationed at one ministry building. Only 602 were confirmed in the paperwork and accounted for.

Ever get the feeling that you've been had? My tax dollars went to this?!

In a move that will probably make most IT folks push for the death penalty, Jeffrey Lee Parson, age 19, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for writing the Blaster.B virus that snarled computer networks in August of 2003. Following his prison term, he will undergo three years of supervised release and have to serve 100 hours of community service. His fine will be determined on or around 10 February 2005. Tracking him down was assisted by the fact that the filename of the Blaster.B virus was the same as one of the domain names Parson had registered. Judge Marsha Pechman gave Parson the light sentence after taking into account his age, lack of parental supervision, and history of mental illness (interseting...)

In a move predicted in the Book of Revelations, Microsoft has opened the XML schemas for Office 2003. The schemas, which dictate how files generated by MS Office 2003 are laid out and define what does what, are being offered under "open and royalty-free documentation and licenses" which are "perpetual in nature". I'm going to download a copy of the license agreement and call in a favour of an old friend - the thought of MS opening its file formats blows my mind. This is the crown jewels for them - it would allow interoperability between office suites, from WordPerfect to OpenOffice.org and Koffice. Reportedly the state of Massachusetts has been persuing an initiative that requires open file formats and Microsoft has stepped up to the plate. Various software companies were alarmed at the internal memo that stated that only open-source software would be considered for deployment, and everyone else would be left out in the cold. The Massachusetts state government has stated that it would internally support those file formats, along with a number of others, such as the PDF file format.

I'm kind of worried that this is going to turn out like the efforts in England and elsewhere that were only used to blackmail MS into dropping their licensing fees, but only slightly. I'm not going to download the docs until I can go over the license, to make sure there's nothing shady in it.

You can download a copy of the US Army's Basic Cryptanalysis Field Manual from here if you have an interest in crypto.


I'm not sure of what to make of this: A keychain radiation detector. The tiny Giger counter in this keyfob calculates the dose of radiation you're recieving in the event that you're exposed to nuclear material. It is supposed to run for a decade on a single power cell and they claim that the unit is even hardened against EMP (electromagnetic pulses). This site also have a large amount of information pertaining to surviving a nuclear attack (don't be anywhere near the first couple of blast radii).

This reminds me of the hysteria surrounding the Y2k bug.

Some brave graffiti artist tagged each and every window of this building. Wow.

More ways to defend yourself with an umbrella or walking stick.

Rolling Stone magazine published an interesting story about the US possibly reinstating the draft that everyone between the ages of 18 and 34 should read. Following a number of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, an internal memo of the Selective Service revealed that it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit new soldiers, even after increasing the rewards and benefits for signing up. The document further proposes that the Selective Service increase the ages it will draft to cover everyone between 18 and 34, and to take into account 'special skills'. What that list of special skills is does not appear in the article, but I think I can hazard a guess judging by what the military has been quietly beefing up in the past five or six years - telecommunication specialists, computer technicians, information security professionals, and trained chemists and biochemists (the threat of terrorist bombings and biowarfare makes this likely). Maybe they'd be trying to hire new linguists, seeing as how they've been firing so many of them lately. There is also talk of the children of the current regeime being drafted (though you can bet your bottom dollar that they'd never see action outside of office politics). A number of representatives are also openly advocating the reinstantement of the draft, among them representative Charles Rangel of New York. Another interesting point the article makes is that George W. Bush has signed an executive order that will expedite immigration to the US if they agree to serve in the military (executive order 13269).

George Bush's list of executive orders is interesting reading, nonetheless.

The SBC/AT&T buyout has been decided. Pending SEC approval, AT&T would be purchased for $16bus in stock and cash.

Now this really and truly makes me ill: Many high school students don't think the First Amendment is important. Over one in three high school students, when read the First Amendment verbatim, say that it goes too far in the freedoms it grants. Only half of the students interviewed say that newspapers should not have to get government approval for the stories they intend to publish. 83% of the students said that people should not be allowed to express views unpopular in their society. Many of these kids don't even know what is and isn't illegal - many things covered by the First Amendment they claimed were restricted. Much of the problem, it has been determined, is that the fundamental rights of this country aren't taught in schools anymore.

Maybe I got lucky in high school. I had to take two years of civics, taught by a man who was ex-military and was known to rant for hours on end about civil rights, the state of the country and the military, and various related topics. He actually crammed a lot of stuff into our heads in the process, such as the bill of rights, the limits of them (as he knew them, which was pretty far; when you get a classroom full of bored teenagers trying to get his goat, his knowledge was enough to turn any crazy thing you could throw at him into a scenario to discuss). A few years later, I had a professor at Pitt who was much the same (I had him for Computer Ethics, specifically) and he did a lot to keep that alive in us. The most important thing that those two gentlement hammered into our skulls so many years apart was that it is important to exercise those rights as much as we can, lest we forget about them and not realise that they're slowly being taken from us. Use it or lose it, they say.

I'm half-waiting for these kids to try to speak out for any reason at all, only to be hauled into their respective school offices for a dressing down because they didn't agree with something going on.

Then again.. naah. If these kids don't even know what the Bill of Rights has for them, they'd never even think to speak out because they'd be too busy playing Katamari Damarcy.

The State of the Union Address Drinking Game. 5 February 2005. Ladies and gentlemen.. let's get plowed.

Speaking of plowed.. how in the hell did this happen??


Charles Fort said something that's stuck with me for years - "I think we're property." Stuff like this doesn't reassure me any. There's a children's home in New York City that specialises in treating HIV-positive kids. The thing is, the drugs she was told to administer to the kids weren't the usual chemical cocktail that slows the advance of the lethal disease, but instead groups of highly experimental anti-HIV compounds that heretofore hadn't been tested on human beings. In short, the kids in that home were being used as guinea pigs. Such symptoms as vomiting, paralysis (!), and diarrhea were side effects of the drugs and not due to HIV itself. The kids had been chosen as test subjects without notifying them, the home, or the parents or guardians of those kids.

This makes me sick. Those are children, not lab rats for a pharmaceutical corporation like Glaxo-Smithkline (who manufactured some of the drugs, which are now known to be highly toxic). When Jacklyn Hoerger, who ran one of the homes used as a testbed for those compounds, took the kids off of the drugs (whose health and happiness improved once their bodies had flushed the metabolites of the drugs out), they were taken from her care and she's been branded a child abuser.

Keep an eye on this one, people. This is some sick shit.

Researchers at Johns-Hopkins University claim that they are able to crack the access codes on vehicular security systems. Texas Instruments, manufacturer of the Immobilizer system (which uses an RFID tag embedded in the key to either enable the car's electrical system, and thus start the engine, or shut it down entirely, if that tag isn't picked up in the key or key fob), claims credit for the 90% reduction in car thefts since 1995 (which have since been replaced by carjackings, incidentally). Some folks say they've been able to figure out the access codes, allowing the car to start, possibly without the presence of a key (hotwiring (the article's kind of fuzzy on that point - without the chip in the key, the vehicle isn't supposed to start)). They also claimed that they've figured out how to crack the access codes on the RFID tags that allow for automatic payment of petrol at the station. Avi Rubin, professor of computer science, says that he was able to steal his own car and fraudlently pay for gar using his own credit card (i.e., with the number tagged to his own credit card but not using the card itself).. TI has been given a demonstration of the technique but they're still claiming that their system is secure.

Until some kids in their parents' basement figure out how to do it for themselves and make some money stealing cars, anyway.

Just a little heads-up on everything that's been happening in the USA lately.

Hi, Big Brother. And I don't mean Kiryuu Touga.

Today was one of those wandering around days. I spent the day walking around at the local mall with nothing much in mind, just seeing what's out there. I priced a few things for work, in the hope that we can pick up some software that we need for a better price than the bigger companies can come up for us. We'll see how things turn out at the meeting tomorrow.

I nosed around the bookstore a little but didn't find much that I needed. I nearly made a few impulse purchases at Wal-Mart, but thankfully good sense prevailed. I don't need a new belt that badly, I don't think, when I still have a perfectly servicable one. I did, however stop off at Jo-Ann's Fabrics to talk shop with some of the women in the fabric cutting section. I'm still planning on doing the movie version of Tenjou Utena, even though I've fallen pretty hard for Fullmetal Alchemist.

Okay, so I love the idea of making Ed's automail arm. I've got a thing for prosthetics, all right?

Anyway, I spoke to Marci, one of the women back there for a good hour or so, poring over catalogue after catalogue of patterns for one that would serve as a good base for the Ohtori Academy boys' uniform. Eventually, I'd decided that I couldn't trust my visual memory for it, and headed home to dig through my image collection for some reference pictures to print out. That done, I drove back to the store and showed them to Marci, who then pointed out a likely candidate in the Vogue catalogue. After some discussion, we decided on fabrics and a pattern. I can find the buttons I need without much difficulty; I plan on making a second prototype of the rose crest ring tomorrow night. Depending on how that turns out, I'm going to start working on the actual ring shortly therafter.

After returning to the Garden I hung out for a while and did some lifestyle maintenance, then got a workout before driving back to the homefront for dinner with the family. Dataline made hamburgers for dinner tonight, though I opted for my grandfather's chili, which I've been wanting for a long while now. We had a family dinner; I can't describe it much better than that. I know it sounds trite and ordinary, but this is the first time that I've felt relaxed there, certainly since I moved out last summer. The sense of decay there isn't as pronounced anymore. Either that, or I'm finally starting to relax about the whole homefront thing. Either way, it was emminently enjoyable tonight. I'd agreed to help Dataline take down the Christmas stuff tonight, which we did in a little less than an hour, all told. This included taking the tree down and storing everything in the attic, as well as dismantling the platform and storing that as well.


Saturday has been a time of recuperation after this week. Friday was spent working on a fairly important machine at work that fell prey to far too many unique pieces of spyware and at least one virus after training its user that antiviral software and at least one anti-spyware agent must be kept up to date and run regularly. I don't have constant access to the machine, so I made it clear that it was his responsibility.

This wasn't done, so I got stuck with the task of cleaning it up.

Unfortunately this machine is important enough that the task of mopping up the aftermath has been handed off to management, and scorched earth redemption is the only way to go. The user of said machine has been told to start backing up his data, because it's going to be put to the torch on Monday morning.

Gentle readers, do your local IT staff a huge favour and take care of your deck. We tell you what to do for the sake of your machine (to keep it running), for the sake of you (so you can actually get work done), and for our own sake (so we don't go nuts if something bad happens and have to kill most of the population of the city for stress relief, lest we keel over dead of a stroke in your office). We hate spending time fixing your box; you hate downtime. Let's work together to prevent stuff like this from happening, okay?

Friday night I spent hanging around the Garden, by way of the local deli for dinner. I decided that I wasn't in the mood to cook last night and picked up a carsar salad and a Mediterranean vegetable wrap for dinner, and for dessert opted for mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I know that it probably doesn't sound like much to you, but for me that's pretty decadent.

I spent a good part of the evening geeking out with Luel. I spent some time messing around with suspend-to-disk (which writes the contents of a system's RAM to the hard drive and then powers down, for later restoration) and CPU frequency adjustment (which slows down the CPU's speed, and hence power consumption if it isn't being needed). Net result: I can CAD (control+alt+delete) Luel and he goes into hiberation. By hitting the power button, he comes right back up to where I left off.

Yeah, it's automagickal for everyone else. I like to know how this stuff works.

Today I woke up somewhen around 0900 EST (I've been getting a surprisingly decent amount of sleep lately, for everything that's been going wrong) and after my usual weekend breakfast and laying around reading, I spoke on the phone with Lyssa for a while. She's been assembling Alphonse, her new partner in crime, and ran into problems last night. For whatever reason, Windows XP won't install on Alphonse - the installer keeps crashing and rebooting, and not making it very far. It could be a number of things: It could be a dead BIOS battery (I ran into that problem myself a few months ago), a bad motherboard, bad RAM.. I do not know, and won't unless I sit down and take a look at him. I hope it isn't a hardware failure.

After I got off the phone, I headed out to the grocery to stock up for the week. I was in an odd mood today, so I decided to get dressed up for the occasion. I usually bum around in jeans and a sweater at work, so it was a nice change of pace. Maybe I'll take a few pictures tomorrow...

I also stopped at the DMV to get a new driver's license and to update my records, something that I kept putting off after moving.

I promised Dataline that I'd help her take the tree down at the homefront a while ago, and called on ahead to make sure that everyone would be home. Oddly enough, she was on her way out to lunch with some friends, so I decided to join her. For some reason they like to go to a little restaurant in the suburbs that the kids enjoy, so I headed up the road to meet them.

I wound up talking for a long while with Dataline about what's been going on. She's in a similiar fix as I am right now but she's better at planning budgets. She's going to help me figure out how to get everything paid on a monthly salary, because I'm not having a hell of a lot of success a this point in time.

I'm going over there tomorrow to help out.

I drove home after a few hours out with everyone, but still didn't feel quite at home. I've been having one of those weeks, I guess. I called Lupa and we drove out to the Chinese buffet for dinner, someplace we haven't gone for a few months. I was having one of those days, where I didn't want to be alone but was having problems relating to people. We sat and talked for a couple of hours over hot Chinese food and tea, something that I needed badly. I didn't realise that it had begun to snow while we were in there, and the highway was in pretty bad shape by the time we headed back home. I managed to get us back in one piece, though when I slid into the driveway of Lupa's building from the snow on the road, I made a snap decision to not join them at the art gallery opening this evening. I don't trust myself driving when it's like this, my need to be around people be damned at times like this.

You're Nigel Uno!
Which Codename: Kids Next Door Character Are You?

A Slovak man freed himself from his car, which was trapped in the snow, by drinking the beer he had in his car and urinating on the snow to melt it.

As my besainted grandmother used to say, gods care for her, "That takes kidneys!"

(No, I'm serious - that was one of her favourite sayings.)

Whoa.. using virtuality to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.


Communications giant SBC is making another attempt to buy AT&T. AT&T, which has been around for 120 years now, would come to the end of an era, and possibly screw the customers out of a little more money. Neither company has commented, stating that the negotiations are very sensitive. Ironically, SBC was one of the companies created when the US government forced ST&T to split into multiple companies back in 1984 on the grounds that they had a monopoly. Rumour has it that the purchase price is somewhere in the range of $10bus.

Interesting times, indeed.. a few people out there have discovered that you can log into a Windows domain without being touched by group policy objects if you log in but pull the network cable as soon as your credentials are accepted. The initial go / no go exchange happens in the first few seconds after you log in, then the rest of the traffic is getting the configuration for your environment from one of the domain controllers. If you physically disconnect after your account is authenticated but before the group policy goes on, you have an environment where you can map drives and prowl around systems that you might not have access to ordinarily due to access permissions. However, a savvy admin can set up the local security policy to deny local logins, which you'd be defaulting to if you did that. It is also possible to prevent workstations from caching users' profiles, which would prevent this from working, also. It's also possible to make the local security policy a clone of the group policy, but speaking from experience, this is a bigger pain in the ass than most admins have time for. A belt-and-suspenders solution would go so far as to make times this is done into full-blown security incidents, with all of the hassle and torture for everyone involved. This means treating a user like a cracker and possibly shakig up your entire tech staff (as well as bringing in the legal team) but if someone's trying to dodge a group policy, designed to restrict what users can and cannot do (separation of privileges)... well, you really have to ask why someone on your staff is circumventing security policy.

Someone calling himself or herself 'FutureProof' has released how to un-DRM iTunes files. FutureProof has delved into the guts of the file format and determined what parts implement DRM (digital rights management). The programme FP wrote, called Hymn (there is also a cross-platform Java implementation, called jHymn) figures out which key in the user's collection of keys is associated with that file, and then uses the AES (Advanced Encryption System) algorithm (the officially-sanctioned replacement for DES) along with that key to decrypt the file. Net result: You can back up your files without having to fuss with finding and backing up each license/key (and later fighting to get them back into place when you reinstall), and most importantly without paying again.

Readers of my memory logs may remember something I wrote about Chuck Clark and the sensors buried in the ground surrounding the Groom Lake facility in Nevada. In particular, the US government brought him up on charges of 'malicious interference with a communications system used for national defense' because he mapped the sensor packages buried around the site (some of which, incidentally, were on public land) when the claimed that one had gone missing. Charges against Clark have been dropped.. Last January Clark agreed to one year of 'pre-trial diversion', in which he had to either locate the missing sensor package or pay to replace it. Clark paid for it. If there's evidence that a package went missing or that he was implicated, I've yet to see it.


Why didn't anyone tell me that the teeny little rod packed in the side of my Cybertool 41 had a ballpoint pen?!

My boss called me to repair the networked printer in the foyer of the office today - it's an Apple 16/600ps attached to a parallel port printserver with a broken door on the side (which also serves as a print tray). It took me about a half-hour to dig the bits of plastic from the old door/print tray out of the hinge with a variety of tools, including a slim length of metal rod that once slid into the side of my pocket knife, with a nifty grey plastic piece on one end so that it fit cleanly. I thought it was the DIP switch setter.

Shortly after I began jimmying the remains of the hinge-peg out with it, however, the tip suddenly broke, hanging at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the rod.

Not a big deal, it'll still work. Right?

A thick blue goo began to ooze from the remains of the tip that remained lodged in the hinge. A similiar goo flowed from my end of of the rod still held in my fingers.


A controlled panic took place, because my boss was on the phone with a client as I fought to keep the ink from running over everything on the table. I managed to get a sheet of paper underneath the mess though I still had to mop up the spilled ink with paper towels, all of which wound up in the trash along with the remains of the pen.


In a move that no doubt has medical ethicists and right to life pundits seething, researchers have begun growing chimaerae, creatures with human and animal DNA. In 2003, Chinese scientists successfully fused embryonic cells of a human and a rabbit. The hybrid was allowed to grow for a short number of days and then terminated. In 2004, doctors at the Mayo Clinic of Minnesota bred a pig that had human blood flowing through its circulatory system. At Stanford, an experiment is in the planning stages to engineer mice with human neurons inside their tiny little skulls. All of this work is being done to see if it is possible to create animals that are closer to homo sapiens sapiens than before to better test new pharmaceuticals and possibly use them as banks of spare parts for transplantation. Of course, the big questions are when, if at all, those chimaerae should be considered human, and what rights they should have in any event. US Federal law has no such precedents at this time.

I think this qualifies as 'having too much time on your hands'. Some of the folks over at Newsforge decided to see which, if any Windows viruses would run under WINE. Klez made a valiant attempt to run but wasn't able to because it was so RFC-uncompliant. Two variants of Sobig ran but didn't actually create the filedrop it was supposed to. The SCO variant of MyDoom did everything but start the DoS attack on the SCO website. Somefool ran as expected, though it ran the system load up unacceptibly high.

See? Linux is compatible with Windows.. even down to running many of the same viruses and worms, though without the harmful side-effects.

He's an interesting reprint: Self defense techniques with a walking stick or umbrella, first published in 1901 CE. The illustrations are interesting, also, showing exactly how to hold the implement of choice, how to maneuver it (with the wrist, not the thumb), and exactly how to strike. The tactics used are a matter of baiting a blow and then counterstriking when your opponent exposes parts of their body in the process.

Never press the big red button!

Ever wonder about who the United States has been shipping arms to? Now you can look up every shipment between 1990 and 2000 by region, country, and start and end years. I suggest running a query on the Middle East, all countries, to see what you can pull up. I think a lot of people are doing that right now, which is why the server is so sluggish.

Another journalist has come forward, admitting that she'd taken over $40kus from the White House to speak out in favour of a Constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Maggie Gallagher testified before the Senate in support of the controversial amendment proposed by the Bush Administration. She had not disclosed previously that she was on the payroll, which renders her testimony highly suspect. Gallagher was quoted as saying that it never occurred to her to mention that she was on their payroll.

Excuse me, but how in the hell does it not occur to you to mention that you were paid $40kus for your testimony, which just happens to agree with the party line of the current regeime?!

Apologising to your readers won't mean a damn thing if that amendment screws a considerable fraction of the population.

How to make a The Doctor
5 parts anger
3 parts humour
3 parts beauty
Add to a cocktail shaker and mix vigorously. Add a little cocktail umbrella and a dash of lustfulness


Personality cocktail
From Go-Quiz.com


In a notable turn of events, the DSL provider Speakeasy, famous for it's terms of service designed with computer geeks in mind has settled on the web browser Firefox for its customers. Concerned with the numerous security vulnerabilities in Microsoft Internet Explorer, the opensource browser has taken the Net by storm, and is available for download from Speakeasy's mirrors.

In a maneuver that's only going to exacerbate the spread of viruses from machine to machine, Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to limit the security fixes that pirated copies of Windows can access. Given how many pirated copies of Windows are out there, this is going to increase the number of vulnerable hosts immensely. A new authentication system for the Windows Update webservice will be deployed soon which will prevent all but 'critical patches' from being downloaded, including the various extra stuff that has the nasty tendency to add bugs to systems. I'm not the only one that thinks this is going to cause a problem; other industry voices are making their opinions known, and they're not terribly flattering.

It appears that September has finally ended: America On-Line has will terminate their Usenet feeds in February of 2005. Thousands of newsgroups across the net will breathe a sigh of relief as thousands of posters suddenly vanish. Then again, finding an ISP which still maintains a news server is becoming more and more difficult these days. Discussion has moved to weblogs, web boards, and e-mail lists. Binaries, pirated and otherwise, are now available on IRC and the peer-to-peer networks. There are a few newsgroups which would actually be nice to have (like alt.gothic and alt.fan.jittlov) but you hardly miss them after going without for a few months.

Not all is well, however, because attempts to append an anti-gay marriage amentment are still planned, even though it probably won't have top priority. The House and Senate thankfully failed to pass the bill last year, but we're not out of the woods yet. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado introduced the Marriage Protection Amendment (protection from what?) on Monday; eleven states have approved this amendment so far. Allard has 24 backers to this amendment in the Senate, and is actively working for more.

You might want to keep an eye on this list of countries' views on gay marriage, just in case.

The RIAA got coal in its stocking last year.

If you've had to call a company for any reason, you've probably encountered two things: Time on hold, sometimes on the order of hours at a stretch, and the warning that your call might be recorded for quality control. You rarely know when your call is being recorded because the units they have don't make clicking or beeping noises into the line when they're on. Those recorders, when they're running, record even when you're on hold. Anything you say while you're on the line might wind up on a spool of magnetic tape or in the storage field of a digital recorder. And yes, someone listens to each of those recordings, as odd as it may sound.. and the stuff they pick up is incredible, from cursing and death threats to someone calling to turn off someone else's service as revenge. There's no way to guarantee that those recordings aren't falling into hands you'd rather they not wind up in, either.

Food for thought.

Blogspace has set up a web service that transforms New York Times article links into weblog-safe links.

George W. Bush's inauguration speech has been rebutted, and thoroughly. Read this, if only because it points out all of the fallacies in the speech - whoever wrote it doesn't know much about American history.


Happy birthday, Spaceman.

Happy birthday, Trap Vector.

I was wrong - Luel will function normally while his LCD panel is closed. X is smart enough to put two and two together, and not turn off the display circuitry when the lid's closed if it detects an external display.

Johnny Carson, RIP. Dead of emphysema at age 79 on the morning of 23 January 2005.

Also recently deceased is Rosemary Woods, former secretart to ex-President Richard Nixon who said that she had accidentally erased part of a certain recording made at the Watergate hotel... She was 87.

Foreigners in Iraq being kidnapped and used as blackmail material to get their governments out of the country are, to the chagrin of the civilised, nothing new in this day and age. The plight of this gentleman, however, stands out because he is not begging the US government to pull out (they won't); he's calling for leaders of the Arabic world, because of Bush's "selfishness and unconcern for those who've been pushed into this hellhole."

You won't see that in the US media.

The time of not being able to fix a damned thing advances: Nokia has announced that they've teamed up with Texas Instruments to produce much cheaper cellular telephones that are basically on a single silicon chip. The product will be based upon TI's famous Digital RF (Radio Frequency) Processor technology, which will make cellphones even smaller and use less power. Phones based upon this technology will be marketed at the third world primarily.

In response to the reported contamination of human stem cell lines, a number of private organisations are planning to create their own germlines for research. Reportedly, dozens of new lines are or will be shortly underway. Techniques not explicitly sanctioned by the current administration using human proteins and growth hormones will be used to avoid contamination with animal proteins, as happened to the germlines in widespread use. Other facilities are attempting to grow stem cell lines without the use of any other cells (huh? where are they getting their cultures from, then?), by using proteins derived from marine shellfish (as opposed to freshwater shellfish), and stem cells not derived from placental or embryonic tissues, such as muscle and skin.

You have to love Calvin and Hobbes fans.

For people willing to see how far they can go before they drop of insulin shock (but aren't adventurous enough to actually try raw fish), candy sushi, made out of what amounts to Rice Krispy treats, gummy worms, and fruit roll-ups. For faux sushi on the fin, there's also the jello aquarium (which I plan on trying, incidentally) and Twinkie sushi.

The ultra-conservatives will harp about Spongebob Squarepants being gay, and yet they completely miss the point of Bugs Bunny dressing up in drag and skeezing on other male 'toons.

What's this world coming to?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted a list of endangered applications and devices. Check it out, and consider stocking up while you still can.

Somebody converted a manual typewriter into a computer keyboard. Very cool. Steampunk computing, anyone?

Wonderful. An SUV for militant yuppies. I wonder if you can have a turret added along with air conditioning?

War on bloggers has been declared in Iran.


Got the external display working on Luel yesterday - the secret is the plug the monitor in before you power him up, then the graphics chipset detects the external display. FUNCTION+F8 lets you switch over to the external display, which powers the LCD panel off. I think there's a way around that but I haven't messed around with it yet. I'm sitting at work using a spare monitor to write this update, in fact. The graphics subsystem goes into no-power suspend mode whenever the lid's fully closed (due to the cutoff switch in one of the hinges) but that's not a big deal; Luel's positioned such that he's between the console and the display and not completely closed. There's no power going to the LCD panel.

As for the S-Video/TV output.. no dice. I don't know if it's my cable or not. I'm going to post to the Linux on Dell Laptops Yahoogroup today and see if anyone's gotten it to work.

I have a few cables: An adaptor which does S-video to S-video plus composite video+stereo sound (seven pin connectors) and an S-video cable (four pin connectors). The Intel 855GM video chipset in Luel detects the TV output and recognises it as a valid output device, I just don't know how to turn it on.

Next on the agenda: S-video output, full suspend mode, and fine-tuning the ACPI configuration.

Of course it'd be denied.. how else would the new spy unit formed by the Pentagon get its work done? On Sunday, it was admitted that the US government is trying to improve its global network of spies (of course spying is alive and well.. you always need intelligence on everyone else to help figure out what to do next) but they denied that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had created a private intelligence unit, answering only to himself. The directors of the Pentagon's spy network claim that they still report to Congress, et al, but the rumours are flying inside the beltway. The intelligence network, if the rumours are to be believed, has been in existence for two years now and reports only to Donald Rumsfeld. Funds for this unit are said to have been appropriated from other projects and aggregated (government funding via salami scam). Members of this unit are supposedly attached to special forces units.

In a surprising turn of events, the germlines of human stem cells available for experimentation are contaminated by proteins of a non-human origin, which potentially makes them unsuitable for theraputic use. The stem cell lines were found to contain the protein N-glycolylneuraminic acid, which is found only if stem cells are grown in cultures with non-human cells. Even when samples of the cells were grown in entirely new serum cultures, the sialic acid was still found. The presence of the nonhuman compounds may provoke tissue rejection syndrome in humans that the cells are implanted in.

This couldn't happen at a worse time.

"I told you to do WHAT?"

Kids, for the gods's sake, please don't try this at home: Using a microwave to melt metal for casting. A guy named David Reid figured out how to use a microwave to melt metal to cast objects after reading how microwave radiation could be used in the process of refining rare earth metals for experimentatl purposes. Basically, a wax blank of the object is prepared (through some sculpting method) which is then encased in an organic ceramic slurry impregnated with graphite, which is then coated with several layers of magnetite sand (ferrous sand which is weakly magnetic). This is done to build up a mold around the wax blank. Then the mold is heated rapidly, which causes the wax to evaporate (special wax is used here; those who have worked with the process of centripital casting are no doubt familiar with this). The difference here is that a quantity of the metal to be used is then added to the cup-like portion of the mold along with elemental carbon (I would assume, to minimise the amount of impurities that get mixed into the metal). A block of insulating material (which is transparent to microwave radiation) is then placed over the mold, and the whole shebang goes into a slightly modified kitchen microwave.

At this point, you've no doubt broken into a cold sweat if you've ever seen a microwave's contents arc. I have.

The microwave is then turned on for a certain period of time, long enough to cause the metal to melt. After the microwave shuts itself off, the block of insulating material, containing the mold is then inverted with long tongs, and the melted metal runs into the space in the mold formed by the (now missing) wax blank and allowed to cool.

This guy's got enough guts to make balloon sculptures depicting The Last Supper, no lie.

And now, Atom Smasher's Windows Error Dialog Box generator.

The end of an era has come - Phrack Magazine is wrapping up. The famous underground 'zine, which has been in existence since 1985, has put out a final call for papers for issue #63, marking the end of an era. Phrack Magazine has dropped out of publication from time to time over the years, and each time a new crew has appeared from the mists to pick up the torch. The quality of Phrack has been incredible in the last few issues, so why they're shutting down is anyone's guess.

I sincerely hope that someone who can do a good job takes over. I know that I couldn't fill those shoes.

Someone's figured out how to convert TiVo's recorded shows into standard MPEG files that can be played anywhere. I've mirrored it here in case TiVo takes offense at someone breaking their copy protection.

In response to what happened to Cory Doctorow not long ago on his way into the United States, Ryan Singel made a few inquiries to see what was what, and surprsingly he heard back from American Airlines. Tim Wagner, one of AA's spokesfolks, wrote him back to tell him that the incident was outside of the norm, and that the agent would undergo 'further training' (whatever that means) with respect to asking someone flying into the US to provide the names and addresses of the people (s)he would be staying with (I hate Spivak pronouns; if I wanted to speak Low Gallifreyan donoe temo ll'd konowat dia) "for their own protection". Cory, however, pointed out a number of discrepancies in Wagner's reply, such as the fact that at no time did they (the agents) say that they would destroy the list in front of him when they were done with it.

Fnords abound.

Since the Ghettohackers retired from Defcon's Capture the Flag competition in Defcon 9 by clearing each machine like a magnetic pulse through a server room, they've also tired of acting as the admins/hosts/MC's of the event. The word's gone out that they're looking for their replacements, and in fact a new event to replace CtF. The call is simple: Come up with a contest to replace CtF that's just as fun and just as engaging. The Ghettohackers made it a spectator sport; can you do the same thing? Check out the all-call for the skinny.

Dirty laundry is dirty laundry, regardless of if you're a Democrat or a Republican.


The snow came crashing in some time today, I know not when, and swamped Pittsburgh. Like an idiot, I drove to the grocery store this afternoon, not long after waking up, because I thought it would be a good idea to get groceries while I was awake. Little did I realise that the highways weren't salted, weren't even scraped, and four inches of snow left me fishtailing every time I touched the steering wheel. Simply making a turn onto the on-ramp left my trusty car spraying snow in directions that it should never have gone in.

I should have stayed home today.

Last night I stayed up with Lyssa and watched the last of Fullmetal Alchemist, the latest anime that I've gotten hooked on. She and Hasufin found fansubs of it on one of the BitTorrent trackers and downloaded all fifty-one episodes of it, subtitled by at least two groups (no list available because I don't feel like going over all fifty-one files to write down which crew did which one). I'm trying no to give anything away, but the last couple of episodes caught me by surprise. Some new characters were introduced late in the series, but they suddenly become very, very important to the plotline without a lot of character development or foreshadowing. Like a deus ex machina, they appear out of nowhere to take over. I'm not trying to say that FMA is a bad series, it isn't. All I'm saying is that I think it could have been handled better.

The ending left me feeling unfulfilled; not from the 'what the hell?!' factor (which is common to most every anime series these days), but because.. it's sad. That's it. Never the twain shall meet.

Most of today was spent lounging around the Garden (before and after risking life and limb to get groceries). I got some cleaning done, which is to say I ran the sweeper for the first time in a long while. Now the floor's picked up and the carpet's clean... I also did a lot of reading, catching up on stuff that I keep printing out to read later but never seem to get around to.

Tonight found me finishing off the last of the Iron Chef General T'sao's Chicken sauce (which isn't bad, but I still prefer making it from scratch) and hacking around on Luel to get TV output working.

This has been honking me off for weeks now.

The Dell Inspiron 700m has the Intel 855GM graphics chip on the mainboard, which runs the LCD panel, the VGA connector, and the S-Video (TV out) jack, and does 3D acceleration to boot. It runs the LCD panel admirably, and the 3D acceleration is nice, I have to admit. It should run the VGA output normally, though I haven't gotten that working yet.

Yeah, that makes no sense. VGA is VGA, right? The closest thing I can come up with is that because the LCD panel runs at a weird resolution (1280x800), the monitor you hook up to the VGA connector has to be capable of it, or else it'll have to run at one of the more standard resolutions, like 1024x768.

But wait, it gets weird: The X server detects two graphics chips, 0:2:0 and 0:2:1.

What the hell do I do? I can set up the X server to use them both, or I can use it the way I'd originally intended to, was to replace the LCD panel when I'm at work (I suspect that by plugging the monitor in and then booting up, it'll detect the monitor and use it normally). At least, I hope I can use it that way.

I should be able to plug the monitor in, boot up, log in, and off I go, right? Or at least exit my X session, plug the monitor in, start it back up, and do my thing. I tried the latter on Thursday and couldn't get it to work. I figured that I needed to create a stanza for that monitor to get it working but didn't really get to test it out.

X is a strange beast. Configuring it for anything other than "One monitor, one keyboard, one mouse" borders on deep magick.

How does Windows do it so seamlessly?

What I'm probably going to wind up doing is creating a layout (basically a subconfiguration) for the monitor at work, which then starts up with a command line option. I'm going to do one here for my spare display, too, just to test the theory.

The TV output is posing more of a challenge.

I've been able to find dead nothing about this for the Inspiron 700m, and five or six ways of going about it for Matrox, Nvidia, ATI, and other graphics chipsets. Most everything involves special proprietary drivers, available as binaries only. The 855GM, as near as I can tell, isn't like that. Scratch that avenue.

Set up another layout? Easily done, in fact already done. That doesn't tell me how to make X kick over to the S-Video output when I start it up, though.

After looking around, I discovered that there are two.. they're referred to as 'pipes' in the documentation, which I think are possible displays. Pipe 'B' is the LCD panel built into Luel. Pipe 'A' is the VGA connector, and I think the TV output connector as well.

This is good. But how in the hell do I make use of them?


I've found a bunch of articles about the brain/computer interface that the company Cyberkinetics has been working on for the past couple of years. They're all concatinated together, so you can get a good overview of it.

I feel sorry for this guy. David Atkinson of the University of Idaho spent the last 18 years of his life designing an experiment that would be sent to Titan on board the Huygens probe, launched to Saturn seven years ago. Due to an oversight, his experiment's instrument package was never properly activated, so any data that it did collect was transmitted using the less reliable B datacomm channel of the probe instead of the reliable A datacomm chanel. Net result: Eighteen years of work was probably wasted.

You know... this really blows my mind:

In the past ten years, there has been an amazing amount of controversy about children's cartoon characters, such as Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie and the Teletubbies. The whole controversy is due to a small number of people who think that these characters are homosexual.


Wait, it gets better: Now conservative groups are claiming that the characters of Spongebob Squarepants are gay. No, I'm serious, they are sending letters out to schools all across the country warning them to not show a video produced by Nickelodeon promoting multiculturalism.

This is the most cracked thing I've heard since.. well.. they said the same thing about the Teletubbies. Unless I'm not cleared to read The Homosexual Agenda to Subvert the United States v2.3, I didn't know that there was some vast conspiracy to make kids think that being gay was the way to go. Either you're gay or you're not, and your reasons are you own for it. No one can make you gay.

Geez. Some of Art Bell's callers back in the 1990's sounded more sane.

There was once a BBS tagline that read "Cocaine is god's way of saying that you make too much money." In England, police are advising bar owners to spray their toilet seats with WD-40 to prevent people from snorting cocaine off of them. First of all.. why in the hell would you put anything approximating a mucus membrane that close to a public toilet? Second, whatever happened to doing a quick line off of the back of your hand, a compact mirror, a magazine, or a cigarette case? Either you're rich enough not to care that you're doing some blow off of a john, or you're desperate enough that anything will do at that particular moment.

If I hear anything else that mind-blowing today, I'm going to ask Leandra to take over some of the processing of my brain. Ye flipping gods.

California calamari, anyone?

Definitely not a good sign.. protests around the country weren't all they needed to be. The protests in New York City barely registered with anyone; the attrition rate was incredibly high (even the organiser left early). A lot of people just couldn't afford to go to any protests, be it for monetary reasons (no paid off-time from work) or family.

I had a discussion about this with a good friend of mine a few days ago: Another of the hallmarks of dystopian literature has come to pass. By this, he explained, he meant that the people had either been so burned out that they just didn't care about politics and how their world was run, or that they were so concerned with just getting by financially they literally couldn't afford to raise their voices without losing their jobs or a day's wages, which can make all the difference between making rent or getting thrown out of your home in the middle of January. Personally, I'm more concerned with losing my job because of my political beliefs, but I digress.

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees citizens the right to speak their minds (within certain limits - the whole 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' argument) without having to fear retribution for dissenting. Retribution covers a lot, including losing your job and being blacklisted because you don't agree with those in power. Just not being able to take time off galls me, though. I was in that position. Not having paid time off means that you lose money for every day you're not at work, and a day's sick time can make a hell of a lot of difference.

Mere survival isn't enough. People need more to have healthy, productive lives. If you're busting your ass day in and day out just to keep your head abouve water, you're not living. You're just surviving.

As much as I hate to say it, sly digs won't change anything. Once in a while, they'll goose someone into realising that there's something amiss, but everyone who knows that something's amiss needs to get together as a cohesive group, not a bunch of smaller ones, and make their voices heard. One shot from a squirt gun isn't much, but when you get a whole elementary school armed with them, you've got the equivelent of a firehose. You just have to aim it properly.

We've got webloggers of all kinds with both eyes and ears open. We've got independent media, like Indymedia, which really needs to be read more widely. We've got free access to radio scanners and ham radios. We've still got microbroadcasting, at least for the immediate future (not that this has ever stopped people - pirate radio is still alive and well).

We need people who can make their voices heard. Flyers can be scattered around a city. Booklets can be slipped into libraries. CD-ROMs can be left all over the place (especially inside books and other CD cases, something that I used to do). All we need is to get more people to question their world and what people tell them. Even if you don't agree with it, one thought can lead to another, which can lead to another, which can lead to another.. enough people need to get riled up to start wanting to change things.

I'm not the only one wondering what can be done.. John Powers of the LA Weekly has done a lot of thinking, and has come up with a good list of what needs to be done on the political front to bring the system back into balance. Read it. Learn it.

What part of 'compact' does this person not understand???

All was not well in the nation's capital yesterday. In fact, damn little made it to the airwaves.

Shahin Maghsoudi, a Ph.D student at the University of Auckland, has unleashed his Masters project upon the student body: An instructor that's a construct. The AI agent has a vocabulary of 203k words, a knowledge base of 106k English grammar rules, and 118k logical inference rules for the purpose of deduction. She is reported to be quite the conversationalist, very nearly human, in fact. The construct, called Maria, is the eighth such software agent he's created toward the end of developing completley artificial help desk operatives, teaching assistents, and tutors. Maria is capable of holding multiple conversations with multiple users simultaneously on a 24x7 basis. Maria is also equipped with an extensive database of knowledge relevant to the topic she was designed to tutor in, and enough ancilliary data to make her able to explain it to people in a meaningful way. She also compiles information on the humasn she interacts with, as any person would, to better communicate in a personalised manner. She will be allowed to interact with a pilot group of students. If you're curious, you can check out the project (and interact with the construct) here.

You might also want to take a look at CyCorp, if constructs are your thing.


In other news, the Washington, DC government has cut the funding for anti-AIDS programmes aimed at homosexuals and bisexuals by $100kus


Scientific American's got an excellent article about quantum encryption on their website, but it still doesn't address something that I've been wondering about since the beginning: If the photons (elementary 'bits' of energy, basically (no pun intended)) encode the mathematical bits (ones and zeroes) of a cryptographic key, and the interference inherent in the activities of an eavesdropper would disturb the key itself.. how would it be detected. The photons that go to party A are entangled with the photons that go to party B so whatever happens to one happens to the other. An eavesdropper would disturb both groups of photons, then, and because they're entangled (connected somehow, modern science doesn't know how yet) they'd be affected in the same way. The key would change, and because both parties had the same key the could still communicate. The eavesdropper would have the undisturbed key, which would be different from the disturbed key (one would hope the numbers prove this), so communications would remain secure. My question is, How would the two parties know that there was an eavesdropper if their communications still went through? The whole point of encryption is to prevent monitoring by third parties; if they try to communicate with one another to compare the key they've just recieved, they're going to have to use either a potentially compromised key or a potentially insecure (and possibly hostile) communications medium to see if they have the same key. There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem there.

Maybe I'm just missing something in overthinking it.

The article has a good overview of how quantum encryption was first discovered, from the initial experiments in a light-tight box called "Aunt Martha's Coffin' (oddly enough) to exactly how the digits of a cryptographic key are transmitted (whether the photons are polarised (oscillating in threespace) vertically or diagonally (relative to some (0,0,0) baseline)). There are now two companies selling production-grade quantum encryption equipment on the open market (Quantique and MagiQ Technologies), though sales have been to organisations willing to field test this new technology thus far. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is also working on testing quantum cryptography in the field, only on networks and not point-to-point links. The article also discusses the potential problems of deploying this technique, and proposed solutions. The article isn't too technical and explains the basics pretty well (though not in great depth, just enough so the article makes sense). Give it a read.

As if there weren't enough reasons to not fly, water served to airline passengers is still showing up as contaminated with total coliform bacteria. The Environmental Protection Agency has taken note of this, and is starting to show concern for the well-being of passengers. Passengers with compromised immune systems are most at health risk.

Support for the war in Iraq has fallen to 39%.

Someone's developed clustering software for just about any operating system written in Perl.

Perl, the scripting language that does anything on most any platform you throw at it, officially scares me now.

Calamari, anyone?

Hundreds of large squid have washed up on the shores of Newport Beach, California. No one's quite sure why they washed up on shore, though it does happen from time to time when schools of squid (no idea what the proper nomenclature is) follow prey fish too close to shore and get washed up by accident.

Hot on the heels of the CommodoreOne is the XGamestation, a develoment kit geared toward hackers and retrogaming fanatics. Based upon a RISC processor core, the kit comes with an Atari-style joystick, TV/monitor hookup cables, and a serial connection to a development host. Graphics are raster-controlled, the sound chip on board can generate three voices simultaneously (sounds a lot like a SID chip to me), and can generate video output in both NTSC (United States) and PAL (the rest of the world). Documentation is in electronic format, and is included on a CD-ROM. Cross-compilation environments are in the works (officially, anyway - you know how GCC and cross-compilation go hand in hand). The purpose of the XGamestation was to get the attention of people who are interested in embedded development in general and game development in particular. The Micro Edition (featured on the website) sells for $199us.

Lots of unhappy people in Washington, DC today. Some demonstrators threw snowballs and assorted trash, while others attempted to break through the security fence (which kept the protestors better than a mile distanced from the actual parade route). Dick Cheny's limo got nailed with a snowball, it was reported. Seven were arrested. Of course, the all-black wearing 'anarchists' popped up and started trashing things, prompting the cops to start pepper spraying everyone.

No word from the DC contingent yet.

There were protests around the country today, from California to DC and everywhere in between. There was a funeral parade in Oregon; Union Station was cleared of civilians; police nailed a highschool kid with a tazer after they ran over his foot with a patrol car.. it was pretty bad out there today.

I wish I'd been out in it. For once, I'd like to be in the trenches writing about this stuff.


Well, it's finally approximating January Outside. Yesterday the temperature hovered around 14 degrees Farenheit, and probably plunged even lower once the sun set. Some time last night snow began to fall, resulting in a layer of an inch or two of the fluffy white stuff on everything. Of course, PennDOT hasn't gotten around to plowing the roads yet (I saw my first and only salt truck thus far about two blocks from the office) so what is normally a twenty minute drive ballooned to nearly ninety minutes. To be fair, it is pretty bad outside; I don't recommend jamming on your brakes or trying to speed unnecessarily. A few skids at stoplights convinced me of that in short order.

That's not to say that it isn't pretty outside, though. It's not as bitterly cold as it was yesterday, and snow is pretty to look at.

Postgres v8.0, arguably one of the most advanced open-source SQL database servers has been released.. and they're using BitTorrent to distribute the source code. Check out the release notes if you're curious, or thinking of upgrading.

Corey Doctorow ran into an interesting situation while returning to the United States from London not long ago - before allowed to re-enter the country, security officers at the airport demanded that he give to them the names and addresses of the people he would be staying with while in the States. Of course, when asked which airline travel regulation this is mandated by, they couldn't tell him. Because Doctorow is a Platinum American Airlines member, however, he was able to get out of doing so. It doesn't seem like anyone's business who a traveller will be staying with while they're in town, but maybe that's just me. Doctorow has written an open letter to American Airlines, which he's posted on his website.

Everybody loves improvised weapons.. but out of office supplies??

Why do I get the feeling that I've I've heard this before? Oh, wait... I have.

..and it's at house.gov, too..


The Presidential Inauguration will be occurring at 1200 EST on the 20th of January, 2004.

After a nervous breakdown last night and most of this morning, I've decided that I'm going.

Tickets are completely gone; most of the events going on Thursday require them, so if you go to the website you're out of luck. The events which do not require them, however, are the "Celebration of Freedom", taking place at The Ellipse at 1600-1800 EST, the administration of the Oath of Office at the Capital Building at 1200 EST, and the Presidential Inaugural Parade, taking place between 1400 and 1630 EST. The parade route stretches from the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, and ends at the White House.

Given the usual turnouts for the Inauguration, I'd suggest getting there as early as humanly possible. Public transportation's going to be completely snarled, I have a feeling.

Bloggers of the world, unite.

Speaking of blogging... not everyone thinks they're the cat's pajamas.

At least blogs aren't taking the fire over things They don't like, at least not yet.

So I spent last night freaking out over my finances. The holiday season has, in short, wiped me out completely. That last trip to DC cost more than I had hoped it would, and because it takes MBSA five days to clear an electronic payment on a credit card, I got smacked not only with a higher interest rate but a late charge.

At Lyssa's behest, I called them again to see if I could straighten things out. I tend to call them about once a year because something or other has screwed up (like their not posting a payment cheque once or twice a year so they can get more money, in the form of a double payment, out of me). Stuff like that. Last night I sat down and fought through voice menu after voice menu until I finally got to a human being and laid everything out, from the service charges on big payments (resulting in the balance going down less than it was supposed to (if you pay $1000, your balance should go down about $900, right?)) to my interest rate going up every month after making 'good faith payments' (meaning that I've made payments regularly for the past nineteen months). Like before, I hadn't expected anything to come of it, and I asked why this kept happening.

Much to my surprise, the woman, instead of telling me that "That's the way things go," started asking me questions about my financial situation, where I was working, how much I was clearing after taxes (either she was confirming the information they have on file for me, or she was updating it, I'm not sure which).. something that hasn't happened in two years.

The last time I got this far, I was turned away. This time, after a wait of a few minutes, she got back on the line and told me that they were willing to switch me from what they call a 'variable rate credit account', where interest is a fixed value (about 16%) plus some variable percentage (which can vary anywhere from 1%-and-change to 15%-and-change) to a static rate account, with an interest rate of 19.99%.

This is the first time ever that I haven't been turned down for this. The two times I called before I was refused help. I think it was because I was living at home and not on my own, so my expenses were considered minimal.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy about this.

The United States Postal Service, on the other hand, probably isn't happy about some of the stuff that people ship. The USPS has a voliminous set of regulations dictating what can and can't be shipped through the mail. Some adventurous folks out there took it upon themselves to see just how they'd react to some anomalies. A collection of objects, properly wrapped and not, were mailed and people waited to see what would arrive. Some of the stranger things that made it through in one piece were a $20us bill wrapped in transparent plastic, very expensive sneakers, a rose (unpackaged), a feather duster, and one snow ski. The things which didn't arrive were a bit more unusual, and included a bottle of water (which the letter carrier drank while on his route), an inflated helium balloon, and a coconut wrapped in paper. The brick arrived after being pulverised by DEA operatives unknown (they did some research on the papers that arrived with the brick dust), and the clear box of sand was opened and presumably sifted.

Weird, weird stuff.

I think I've figured out why kids with too much money to burn build bassmobiles. They build them so they don't have to put up with how loudly the fanbelts, serpentine belts, or brakes of their cars squeal whenever the engine is running.

Guys, put your money into essential parts first, and kilowatts of bass guns second. Please. Do it for those of us who have to listen to your vehicles every time you stop at the light outside. Do it ss that those of us with knowledge of electrical engineering don't get fed up with your bass, build HERF weapons, and take out all of the electronics in a city block just to get some peace and quie.

A list of the organisations that will be protesting at the inauguration has been made available on counter-inaugural.org. If you're going to be down there, consider hooking up with one of these groups. There is strength in numbers. The Turn Your Back On Bush group has made provisions for weblogging from your cellular telephones using text messaging. The Anarchist Resistence is disseminating contact information for legal support groups in case anything goes wrong. Code Pink will be there, too, and I am told by a reliable source that they're assembling crash space for people who will be travelling to DC this week by putting people in touch with one another. If you live down there and you've got colleagues who'll be protesting, you might want to consider making your floor space and couch available.

I'm keeping my ears open, and I'll be making lists of contact information available in the near future.

If anyone has a mind to hook a radio scanner up to a recorder of some kind to monitor radio traffic while they're down there, I'll set up a BitTorrent tracker for any recordings.

By the bye, if you've ever been curious about how your representative voted on bills of particular interest, check out the ACLU scorecard.

You know... it annoys me when my reps lie to me. I think I'm going to scan and put up the responses they sent me.

Just remember one thing: This Supreme Court decision was not overturned on the books. It can still be invoked. Watch your backs.

A committee, backed by a low-profile religious group, spent over half a million on newspaper ads backing George W. Bush and Mel Martinez (candidate for the US Senate). Members of this committee are said to not vote, not read newspapers, not watch television, or even participate in the outside world in any form.

I guess they don't count taking out huge newspaper ads.

Attempts to find out more information were rebuffed by their front man, Steve Truan, who owns a map store just outside of Knoxville. Attempts to contact members of this group outside of the country resulted in their vanishing into thin air, ostensibly because they suddenly had pressing errands to run.

This is thirty-one flavours of strange, folks.

Traveling with large sums of money is dangerous, and not just for the usual reasons.