Browse Month: April 2003

04/26/2003

Great bumper sticker:

“If this sticker is blue, you’re driving too fast.”

(The sticker is red, of course.)

04/25/2003

By now most people have heard the story of the $780 million in cash
stashed in various places around Baghdad (including, of all places, a
dog pound).  It’s certainly an interesting tale, and it has apparently
raised an interesting question: whose money is it?

Lt. Colonel Philip DeCamp, the commander of the tank battalion that
occupies the Republican Palace, asserts, “this money belongs to the
U.S. government.”

Lt. Mark Kitchens of Central Command says instead, “all money found is
the property of the Iraqi people.”

I agree with the latter, and find it intriguing that anyone would think
otherwise.  It should be fun to see if the U.S. government attempts to
take the money as its own…

04/24/2003

One of the greatest songs ever recorded by mankind:

U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.

04/17/2003

Remember that scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Sallah looks down into the big hole, turns to Indiana Jones, and says:

“Indy, why does the floor… move?”

To which our intrepid hero replies, “Ants… why did it have to be ants?”

That’s exactly what our kitchen was like a few days ago. Apparently our house was built on some kind of ant superhighway, because they started trooping through the house like they owned it. The kitchen was the worst– probably because there are always crumbs (darn kids!) laying around. You’d look closely at a spot of black on the floor and it would turn out to be about ten thousand ants swarming over an old Chee-to.

Anyway, the problem was getting to epidemic proportions when I said to Laralee that I’d used enough Kleenex to squash ants, and was tired of hearing the kids rev up the Dustbuster to take out one of the colonies in the family room. I got the can of Raid. It didn’t say anything about ants, but hey, as Laralee pointed out there was a picture of a dead ant right on the can.

I sprayed a couple of the places they were swarming from (under the baseboards, naturally). I figured we might get lucky.

Five minutes later it looked like someone had spilled pepper on the floor. There were dozens of little curled-up shriveled ants laying there, and dozens more kind of wobbling around trying to figure out what the heck hit them. Since that day I haven’t seen a single living ant in the house.

Mwah ha haaaaa!

04/13/2003

Slashdot had some great articles today (maybe Sunday is a good day because lots of people have lots of time to write?). I came across one dealing with a guy who’d created a web site to compare the starships of various science-fiction books and movies. This is, of course, a classic debate amongst fans of, say, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”.

As usual with Slashdot, the commentary drifted from the original topic and I found a great description of why you never see “realistic” space battles in movies or computer games. Here it is, with minimal editing:

Any ship with more acceleration then the other ship can always escape.

Unless you use an unrealistically slow amount of thrust, you tend to have these ships zipping by each other at the very least hundreds of miles per hour, leaving you with a fraction of a second to meaningfully fire on the other ship, then it’s turn back around and do it again. Since you’re a human you can’t whip around instantly, and it takes time to move the ship, so every time you miss and come around for another pass, you’re going a little faster since you had more time to accelerate.

It is virtually impossible to tail someone. If you’re matching their thrust vector, you’re not pointing at them– you’re pointing in the same direction they are. Now, if you had a gunner this might be OK, but when you’re both piloting and gunning, this doesn’t work.

It takes time to learn how to land on things! Typically to get somewhere in an airplane-like space simulator you point your ship at it, apply maximum boost, and stop when you get there. Do that in a real simulator and you’ll whack into the object (or miss it) at a significant fraction of the speed of light. You have to learn to turn at “midpoint”, which, inconveniently enough, is also when you’re going the fastest and this is fairly hard for a human to do correctly. (If you’re on autopilot, it’s easier, but if you’re on autopilot you’re not really playing…) Turn around a little too soon, and you have to creep up on the target object, which might literally take several minutes or even hours. Turn around a little too late and by the time you realize it you’re on an unstoppable collision course. *Whack*.

“Random” encounters are impossible without cheating. I would routinely see enemies boost across the system, probably hitting the 1/3 light speed, on an intercept course, and the instant they reached me, “suddenly” they’re on basically the same vector as me so they can fight me. Reality is they should have zipped across my radar so fast it would be unlikely I would even see them.

Space is big. By the time ships are moving in real Newtonian mechanics and not taking years to get from Earth to Mars, you’re incapable of handling the scales as a human. The computer cheating helps but not enough (and it’s frustrating as all computer cheating is). A tactics-level simulator might be cool, but flying around in Newtonian space is no fun at all. If it was, we’d have more simulations based on that.

Also note this demonstrates space piracy is virtually impossible unless your acceleration is on par with your maximum speed, because you just can’t intercept ships to save your life. (Literally, in some cases.)

04/08/2003

I’m glad my name isn’t…

…Asif Iqbal, for example. That’s the name of a suspected terrorist being held at Guantanamo Bay for over a year, and also the name of a guy who lives in New York and does a lot of business flying. He has to get clearance from the FBI *every week* when he boards planes, because he’s on the TSA’s “no fly” list.

Or at least his name is.

We’re seeing a host of problems with the new TSA list, which is only a precursor to the impending evil of CAPPS II. All sorts of people– grandmothers, teachers, even Pentagon consultants– have unfortunate names that tag them as terrorists in the database. The biggest problem, of course, is that once you’re on the list you really can’t get off. Letters to congressmen, the TSA, or the FBI don’t do any good. One government official suggested to one of the unlucky people that he should change his name. Whee!

At this rate, soon everywhere we go we’ll hear someone say (with an eastern European accent, of course) “Your papers, please.”

04/07/2003

I’m helping a friend set up a web site, and he was registering the domain in the Netherlands (which is where he lives). The registrar was griping about something, and I’m sure I could figure it out if I could just read Dutch:

“Het registratie bureau nederland doet een zone transfer en kijkt op de
servers of daar een file staat voor deze domein naam, helaas is dit
waarschijnlijk bij deze nameservers neit toegestaan, en zal het
nederlandse registratie bureau u aanvraag hierop afwijzen, gaarne
contact opnemen met de eigenaars van deze nameservers en vragen of zij dit corrigeren.”

Whee!

04/06/2003

I don’t think my diet will be the subject of a bestselling weight-loss book any time soon. Here’s an excerpt of my actual menu last week:

THURSDAY
Breakfast: bowl of dry Rice Krispies and orange juice.
Lunch: pepperoni pizza Hot Pocket.
Snack: chocolate eclair.
Dinner: homemade pepperoni pizza.
Bedtime snack: chocolate eclair.

FRIDAY
Breakfast: bowl of dry Rice Krispies and orange juice.
Lunch: pepperoni pizza at Woody’s.
Snack: chocolate eclair.
Dinner: pepperoni pizza from Domino’s.
Bedtime snack: chocolate eclair.

SATURDAY
Breakfast: bowl of dry Raisin Bran and orange juice.
Lunch: leftover pepperoni pizza.
Snack: chocolate eclair.
Dinner: roast beef sandwich.
Bedtime snack: chocolate eclair (the last one, sadly).

It’s a marvel I don’t have greasy hair, heart problems, and weigh 220 pounds…

04/06/2003

This evening I was wandering around the house, picking up random toys and doing the usual nightly cleanup. I heard the Dustbuster roar to life… MWRAAAAAR… and figured Laralee had found some cracker crumbs to vacuum or something.

Everything was quiet.

MWRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR.

Quiet.

MWRAAAAR.

This repeated a dozen times before I decided I’d better figure out what was happening. It turns out that Alex and Kyra had taken it upon themselves to clean the house of ants. It’s some kind of spring migration season, so we’ve seen handfuls of ants parading boldly around the house for the past week or so.

They were going around the downstairs, looking for these teensy ants crawling around, then snagging them with the Dustbuster.

MWRAAAAAAAAR.

04/05/2003

Boy, it seems like the first bowl of Raisin Bran out of the box is always devoid of raisins. I guess they all settle into the middle, and that means no one wants to be the first person to load up on Raisin Bran.

Surely twenty-first-century technology could come up with a solution to this pressing consumer problem…?

04/04/2003

Two weeks ago a man named Mike Hawash was arrested by the FBI as he arrived at work; at the same time a team of agents raided his house (while his wife and kids slept) and seized computer equipment and personal files. For these two weeks he’s been locked in solitary confinement in a federal facility, with only limited access to his family and lawyers.

Oh, and he hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Friends and associates say the only reason they can fathom for this is that three years ago Mike donated $10,000 to a charitable organization called the Global Relief Foundation. It’s a Muslim group that funds the construction of mosques and schools in the U.S. and medical facilities in the West Bank (Hawash was born in the West Bank but is a U.S. citizen).

While it’s hard to know whether Hawash was doing something more sinister, I find it alarming that he’s been held for two weeks as a “material witness” to terrorist activities but no charges have been made. (Note, for the record, that last year the GRF charity was accused of “links to terrorist organizations”– a charge it has denied– but even so that was years after the donation in question was made.)

What the heck is happening around here? How far will the government go in this mythical war on terrorism, and how much will the public watch in silence?

04/02/2003

It’s been a busy few weeks, which probably explains my scarce journalling. Today, though, I have to climb back on my soapbox and shout about the idiotic legislators in Colorado and eight other states who are proposing new laws that will actually make it illegal to operate a network firewall or, in fact, most technologies used to connect to the internet.

The law is intended to combat cell phone “cloning” and network “hacking”, but the language is so broad that it would include network address translation (NAT) technology that’s the basis of all firewalls, cable modems, and even home networks. Anything that “conceals the source” of a network transmission would be a crime.

I can’t seriously believe that firewalls will become illegal. They’re a generally-accepted security measure used by hundreds, of not thousands, of corporations in the state.

Under the legislation, cable modems would also be illegal because they perform NAT by giving you a (usually) 10.x.x.x address on the LAN and a routable IP on the external interface.

Finally, even using Windows’ Internet Connection Sharing would be illegal, since it too uses NAT. That would affect dial-up users as well as the DSL, cable-modem, and T1 crowds.

So basically, it could affect nearly everyone in the state who gets on the internet. How could you possibly enforce such a law? There would be an amazing outrage if the cops started shutting down ISPs, companies, and (heaven forbid) home users for these violations.

I suspect one of two things will happen: (1) the legislators will come to their senses and either rewrite the bill, or kill it; (2) if it passes, it will be unenforceable for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Either way, I don’t see much reason to worry that my livelihood is in danger.

All the same, it’s staggering to think about how these new laws continue to erode our freedoms and– in this case– do so in a way that’s not well-considered and will have implications far beyond their intent. Give me a break.