Monday, July 30, 2007

Microsoft: Now Making Software We Didn't Write Unsafe to Use!™

A series of messages Friday from the Security Department of an unnamed IT company:
We have been made aware of an extremely serious security vulnerability affecting Mozilla Firefox versions and below. The vulnerability allows an attacker to execute code on your computer if you browse to a malicious web page using Firefox. Exploit code for this issue is available in the wild. The currently available exploit code is designed for Microsoft Windows XP SP2. It is not clear whether other platforms are vulnerable to modified versions of the exploit.
The followup message a few hours later:
IT Security has done some extensive testing, and we are ready to adjust our statement as follows:

• If you do not use Firefox at all, you are safe.
• If you’re running an OS other than Windows, you may safely run Firefox.

If you prefer or require Firefox under Windows to do your job:
• Launch Internet Explorer, and click on Help, then About Internet Explorer.
• If your IE version number begins with 6.0, you may safely run Firefox.
• If your IE version number begins with 7.0, you must revert to IE6 before running Firefox.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Out Of Office Assistant

"Thank you for your email. I am unable to reply to it as, in a desperate bid for freedom, I have fled the country. I will be on the lam from July 30th until a maniacally single-minded and tenacious officer of the law finally apprehends me and returns me to the office on August 20th. During this time my pursuer and I will experience, at first, a profound hatred of one another. Then, as I barely wriggle out of one seemingly inescapable trap after another, both of us will come to acknowledge the skill and cunning of the other, which will gradually morph into a strange and mutual admiration. Eventually, we will come to realize that we are more alike than different, that we are, in fact, driven by the same nigh-primordial urges to subvert the norms and paradigms of modern life. This will force us to re-examine not only the true nature of good and evil, but also the very things that make us human. Then, even as the tides return and the seasons change, the struggle will end and I will return to my menial and soul-crushing job.

"During this epic pursuit, Nate Fitch can assist you with SSOP, Rob Jones with the Dev Portal, and Peter Sirota with all other issues; each one, wittingly or unwittingly, aiding and abetting the unending struggle between nature and man."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

vampire technology

i am reading one of those bedford/st.martin's case studies in contemporary criticism editions of Dracula which some book rep sent me at some point. it is aimed squarely at college students. it has footnotes throughout the text to translate that small passage of latin for you, explain the shakespeare reference you might have missed, and define that word that isn't in your dictionary as a small carriage on springs popular in the nineteenth century throughout europe and drawn by two horses instead of four or six (as if you care, but sure, that's what footnotes are for). it also helpfully footnotes the following term: typewriter ("a writing machine that produces characters resembling those printed by a press").

now i know i am old, but this is ridiculous, right? i realize our students have never themselves written a paper on a typewriter. i feel i must point out, though, NOR HAVE I. more to the point, i have also never used quill and ink to craft a letter or a hammer and sharp thingy (technical term) to carve my story into the wall of a cave, but i have still heard of and generally understood these writing technologies.

or maybe this is the (otherwise seemingly humorless) editor's little joke? Dracula IS kind of boring.... so i ask you, are they literally kidding me with this? or are they just kidding me with this?


Monday, July 23, 2007

Incorrectness, Political and otherwise

A couple of weeks ago, I flagged this article from Psychology Today, which attempts to assign evolutionary causes to some of our more hegemonic behaviors because it was just interesting on so very many levels. Then, as per usual, I never got back to it, and Broadsheet and Echidne Of The Snakes beat me to the trenchant analysis. One of the things the latter pointed out, which is totally true and I wish I'd noticed right off, is this. From the original article:
The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct.
And from Echidne:
Whenever I see the kind of argument presented as here, I know that something smells off. Real scientific articles don't say that they are going to "tell the truth." That's just not the way science is written.
(Your second hint that something is rotten here is, natch, that this meticulously researched article is appearing in that bastion of academic rigor, Psychology Today. But that's as may be.)

I have to admit, I'm pretty interested in the principle behind Evolutionary Psychology (or, as Echidne points out, since apparently capital-E Evolutionary capital P Psychology has been hijacked by right-wing pseudo-scientists, I should say that I'm interested in small-e evolutionary small-p psychology). I have, in this very blog, claimed that the hegemonic bastardry of the world is due to the kind of bastards our ancestors were. So other than the fact that I'm calling the resulting behavior out as bastardry, I'm constructing the same sort of argument as Satoshi Kanazawa Ph.D. How embarrassing.

I suppose what I didn't see in constructing my first argument (I was writing about Honor Killings, if you don't want to click the link again) is that it might well only be the construction of the original dogma that builds on the evolutionary fear of reproductive failure. After that, you'd probably have to consider all kinds of rules of mob behavior, which could correlate with sources both evolutionary and social, when examining the actual act of publicly stoning a woman to death--there are all kinds of studies showing we'd do insane and violent things in mobs that we'd never dream of doing on our own. Of course, that has its own set of correlations--but that's a topic for another time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

OaO Presents: The Cool Thing My iPod Just Did™

iPod on random
Spike: "Come on then. Sing."
music swells
Henchman: "My master has The Slayer's sister hostage at the Bronze because she summoned him, and at midnight he's going to take her to the underworld to be his queen."
Giles: "What does he want?"
Henchman: "Her."
iPod plays: As Girls Go by Suzanne Vega

Only about five of you know why that was cool, but boy, it was cool. I heart random algorithms.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Being J.J. Putz

Like most ninth-inning relievers in baseball, Mariners closer J.J. Putz comes onto the field from the bullpen with theme music blaring out of every speaker (in his case, Thunderstruck by AC/DC). He reaches the mound, throws his warm-up pitches with the music still blasting and the crowd cheering. At this point, presumably, we should play some baseball. However, as was the case last night when J.J. completed his 27th save by retiring the Orioles in order, after EVERY SINGLE STRIKE recorded, including foul balls, they brought the music back on for, say, 10 seconds or so. During this time J.J. walked off the mound, wiped the sweat off his brow, made a quick cup of tea, checked the stock ticker on his cellphone, worked on his knitting, and so on, before walking back up to the mound and throwing another pitch. Now, maybe J.J. has talked to the P/A department at the stadium and this is exactly the way he wants things when he pitches. On the other hand, imagine if everyone went to work this way:

Monday, 10:00 a.m. T.G. walks up to the entrance of the Pacific Medical building. As he opens the door, the distinctive guitar riff of U2's The Fly begins playing through the public address system. In unison, every single Amazon employee rises from his or her desk, and begins cheering wildly. This continues while T.G. rides the elevator up to his office, sits down at his desk, reads his email, and checks his RSS feeds. Finally, as he turns to the code he's currently writing, the music and cheering subside.

T.G. stares at the code for a moment.
There is an eerie silence.

T.G. starts to type something. He pauses, then erases it.
A collective "ohhhhh..." of disappointment emanates from the building.
T.G. types a line of code.
The voice of Bono belting, "A man will rise, A man will fall, from the sheer face of love..." blasts out of the PA system. Everyone cheers wildly.
Another line of code is entered.
More insane cheering, The Edge wailing, "Love...will shine like a burning star."
Several more lines of code. Then the distinctive Control-X-S indicating Emacs file save. T.G. opens a terminal window and types, "make" at the prompt.
The screaming shakes the building. The music swells. Every computer screen in the building goes black and then begins flashing "Pump it Up" and "Louder" in big yellow block letters.
Lines of compiler messages scroll by. Then, suddenly they stop. The last line reads: "Compiler error."
The music and screaming abruptly stop. An audible gasp can be heard, followed by concerned murmuring.
T.G. returns to the file. He edits a few lines, saves again, returns to the terminal window and types "make" again.
The music and cheering slowly swell again. Nervous anticipation oozes from every corner.
More compiler messages. Finally, the process terminates with the message "Make completed successfully."
The building erupts in cheers and high-fives. K-C and The Sunshine Band's
That's The Way (I Like It) plays in its entirety. A voice comes over the P/A, summarizing the code that has just been written. Everyone rushes for the exits in order to beat the traffic.
T.G. goes for a cup of tea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Greatest. Cartoon. Ever.

This week's Tom The Dancing Bug (subscription, or watching a brief ad, required).

OaO Presents: Wrandom Wednesday™

One of these days I'm going to figure out how to blog about what I want to blog about without writing 1,000 words at a time about math, or whatever. That day was not yesterday. Nor was it the day before that. Nor was it this day, or this day, or this one (or this one, or this one....)

Music this week is from Grizzly Bear. They are my new favorite band. Or, I should say, they are my favorite new band. I'm also listening to the major label debut of Seattle hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, and it's frickin' awesome. Geologic just name-checked Steve Pool.

I probably had some other things to add, but I can't think of them now. Maybe I'll remember them later.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

There Must Be O(n) Ways To Leave Your N-P Completeness

So yesterday we discovered that when your keyboard gets mixed up, all the letters wind up in cycles with other letters, and that you're guaranteed that if you want to type an a, and you type an a and it comes up q on the screen, if you type q and then keep typing what you see, you'll eventually wind up with an a. Is it clear why this is true? I mean, I happen to know myself that it is, but that's only because I have a degree in this crap. It seems like I could be trying to type a and somehow wind up at a dead end where I type a and see q, and then I type q and see z, type z and see x, type x and see q, type q and see z, type z and see x, &c., &c., never actually getting back to a. But we're actually safe from that because in that case typing both a and x would have to produce a q, which means there were two q keys on our original keyboard (which would be, like, totally whack). This same thing prevents there from being a cycle where, like, I want to type an a, it comes up q, I type q and it comes up a, and then I type a and it comes up z, and then I go through an entirely different cycle. In this case that means your keyboard was whack in a different way--when you type the a key, two different letters could come up. If you're trying to type an a, when you finally see a on the screen, you've completed the cycle.

If by some miracle you've followed me to this point, you know the following: each letter of 'dirk' is going to have to be in a cycle with some other letters, and those cycles can be no larger than 26. You also know from yesterday that to finally actually see 'dirk' on the screen, you're going to have to type what you see as many times as the least common multiple of all of the cycles that these letters are in. So if d and i are in 3-cycles, r is in a 7-cycle, and k is in a 10-cycle, you're going to have to type what you see 210 times (lcm of 3, 7, and 10) before all the cycles match up.

There's one more trick to figuring out the actual answer, and that's noticing that you can't, like, have both a 21-cycle and a 22-cycle on your keyboard. That's because you've only got 26 letters and the 21-cycle and the 22-cycle would have to be composed of entirely different letters (or you would run into the same problems we ran into above, where one letter typed two different things, or there were two of the same letter on your keyboard). You could have, say, two different letters in a 21-cycle, but it would have to be the same 21 cycle.

So, finally, here's the ironic and humorous (for a definition of "humorous" that...well, you know) crux of the thing I was trying to get at yesterday (yes, I know. It wasn't worth it). If this were an actual interview question, an interviewer (at least a good one) would consider you to have to solved this problem at this point, even though you haven't actually found the answer. The reason is that this problem is N-P Complete, which is a fancy way of saying that there's no clever algorithm for solving it other than trying all the possible combinations of cycles that fit into 26 keys and seeing which one gives you the answer where you have to type the longest to get your name. Anyway, off the top of my head the biggest answer I can come up with is if d is in a 2-cycle, i is in a 5-cycle, r is in a 7-cycle, and k is in a 9-cycle, which takes 630 tries. That might be wrong, but I'm going to get the job anyway.

Monday, July 09, 2007

OaO Presents: Enhanced Hilarity For Nerds™

Today's Hilarity For Nerds™ is a link to today's XKCD cartoon. Go and read it, then come back.

Okay, now wipe the tears of mirth from your eyes. Now allow into the back of your consciousness the creeping realization that there will always exist entire classes of people who, while technically speaking the same language, could never make themselves understood across strange divides of culture, jargon, and/or pidgin. Further reflect that perhaps this construction, this divide of meaning, is, in fact, the general state of humanity. Wonder if you can ever truly make yourself "understood." Collapse in a nervous wreck fueled by abstract absurdism and existential angst. Then become bored by this line of thinking and go on to wonder about something else.

Anyway, in an equally hilarious coincidence, this makes for a nice segué straight into the solution to the interview question I posted a couple of weeks back, about which I'm sure you've been wracking your brains. As you'll see, there are some similarities between the problem stated in the cartoon (finding an order that totals exactly $13.05 by ordering from a menu) and the interview question. Then I'll talk about N-P Completeness, and then no one will actually be reading this blog because the intersection of the set of people who read this blog and people who read about N-P completion on blogs consists, surprisingly, of only myself.

As of this, the first sentence of this paragraph, I don't actually know the solution to the keyboard problem, but I'm planning to derive it in the process of the writing. As such, my actual "answer" may be "incorrect." But the solution I give will be undeniably truthy. To review: your name is Dirk. Somebody switched all the letters on your keyboard. You hunt and peck out your name and it comes up 'flrp', so you hunt and peck 'flrp' and it comes up something else. How long until you get "dirk" to appear?

The first key thing to this problem is to realize that the letters have to get switched in "cycles" with other letters. That is, if you type 'a', and 'b' comes up, and then you type 'b' and 'c' comes up, and so on, eventually you must produce an 'a'. The reason for this is that you've got 26 keys, and after you scramble them, they all have to go some place and every space in the keyboard can only have one key in it (this is called the "pigeonhole principle," and it's the basis for an entire branch of mathematics). Let's consider a really simple case--somebody scrambled up the keys and put them back, but miraculously everything ended up in the same place except that the 'a', 'b', 'c', and 'd' keys got switched with each other (a is where b was, b is where c was, c is where d was, d is where a was). So you're when you use your method you're going to see this:
  • airk
  • birk
  • cirk
  • dirk
So the answer in this case was 4. The letters a through d made a "4-cycle," and every other letter was, essentially, switched with itself (a "1-cycle"). Now let's take the same example, but instead of e-z staying the same, let's imagine they all got switched by one letter, too (e is where f was, f is where g was, &c., &c....y is where z was, and z is where e was). So we've got one 4-cycle and one 22-cycle. Watch what happens:
  • ajsl
  • bktm
  • clun
  • dmvo
Crap! We got back to 'd' for the first letter, but none of the other letters are right. They're all in a 22-cycle, so we're going to have to do this 22 times to get back to the start...
  • 20: dgpi
  • 21: ahqj
  • 22: birk
  • 23: cjsl...
Double crap! At try number 22 we had the 'i','r', and 'k' right, but now the d isn't right. We keep going...
  • 41: afoh
  • 42: bgpi
  • 43: chqj
  • 44: dirk
Ahhh. At last. It took 44 times. Hey...that's funny, 44 happens to be the least common multiple of 4 and 22. I wonder if that means something? Also meaningful is that this took way too long to write, and it's way too long to read, and I might actually trick you into reading more of it if I continued it tomorrow and titled it with some catchy pop-culture reference or something. Plus then I could say something like, "I've given you hints to the full solution so you can work on it some more yourself." Or whatever.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Postmodern Baseball Analysis

If there's one squad in baseball this year that narratively deconstructs the sport of baseball into its constituent parts of base and ball, while at the same time reacting to and critiquing extant modernism, it has to be the 2007 Seattle Mariners*. While pitcher Felix Hernandez satirizes the conventional pitching wisdom of "establishing" the fastball by disestablishing the "fastball," while José Vidro (mis)informs the pre-conceived notions of the designated "hitter" by "slugging" .358, and while manager ex-officio Mike Hargrove expands the meaning of "managing" a team to include, "resigning amidst an eight-game winning streak," the Mariners continue to defy the heretofore rigid constructions and socially-accepted norms of baseball teamness.

Before the current baseball season had yet begun, certain members of the blogosphere brought forth scorn and derision upon the men responsible for constructing (or should we say deconstructing?) the Mariner roster, in particular for making two specific trades. Now, at near mid-season, with the Mariners unexpectedly hanging in the midst of playoff contention, a mere game and a half out of the wildcard spot, and three and one half games out of the division lead, perhaps these specious and ill-informed bloggers are ready to eat their words, to admit that they critique without basis of knowledge or fact. After all, it's not as if starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez, acquired for Rafael Soriano (now sporting a 3.03 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 8 walks in 35 innings for the Atlanta Braves), pitched so poorly for the Mariners that they finally placed him on the disabled list with a made-up injury. And it's not as if the only thing preventing their newly aquired designated hitter from being the worst regular batsman on the team (not to mention that the backup catcher and backup first baseman/outfielder are both nigh-literally spanking his ass with the bat, and that his presence is blocking the promotion of AAA phenomenon Adam Jones) is the fact that their shortstop is in a terrible slump at the plate. No, clearly those who predicted doom based on these two trades are mindless, prattling incompetents who...what? Sorry, I've just been informed that those things are actually all true. Sorry to have mislead you, if only for a moment.

So then how are they doing it? To be sure, the Mariners have the greatest center fielder and leadoff man in the known universe in Ichiro Suzuki, and find themselves endowed with a relief pitcher who, while his name is literally "Putz," possesses uncanny attributes of unscorable-upon-ness, they had these attributes last year and the team, in the words of Jaques Derrida, "sucked complete crap." Clearly, the answer can only be found through postmodern analysis. The very existence of the Mariners, the very fact of them, can only be parsed in a context that abhors established norms. They will hit well against good pitchers and poorly against bad ones. They will sweep three games against the Red Sox, the best team in baseball, and lose two of three to the Royals, the single most inept club in all of team sports. They cannot be understood with existing metrics of baseball goodness. Attempts at scouting them or predicting their future through rigorous statistical regression shall surely fail. Only laws of lawlessness may dictate what lies in store for your 2007 Seattle Mariners, Postmodern Major League Team of Baseball.

*it is technically possible that no team in baseball is doing these things in this or any other year.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The UnSurprise

If you're surprised by yesterday's Libby sentence commutation, then...well, then you probably also don't think the Bush administration is using its self-granted warrant-less wiretap powers to spy on its political enemies, which as I pointed out more than a year ago, isn't a rational thing to think. If you're surprised, but it's because it's only a commuted sentence so far and not a full pardon, then you get a pass.

While it's more or less true that the Bush administration has been at approval ratings too low to be able to govern since almost immediately after it was re-elected, that's only stopped them from putting forth new policy. It hasn't stopped their torturing, writ-of-habeas-corpus-suspending, criminally incompetent, or scofflaw ways, and no matter what happens they will never have to answer for any crimes they may or may not have committed, or even have to answer for why they won't answer for them. All that matters is that they got into power, and the only thing that mitigates it is the 22nd Amendment.

Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others; while true, I think he over-estimated how much better it actually is.

Monday, July 02, 2007

OaO Monday Mélange

I had a bunch of interesting choices for the Music Capsule this week, but I settled upon a Seattle band, Those Damn Twins, whom I reviewed for GarageBand. Their 1 minute, 26 second opus "Floor" grabbed me by the cerebral cortex and wouldn't let go. Apparently they actually are twins, but the non-creepy fraternal kind, so it's okay. Check out the Damn Twins, and their quirky, crunchy rock short-stories from the capsule at left.

There's a sequence near the end of Ratatouille that serves as a perfect 30 second demo of why Brad Bird is a genius. It's an animated combination of Hitchcock (as cinematographer, not as master of suspense) and Proust, and it's one final audio-visual rocket boost that takes the film out of the running for an all-time great animated movie and into the category of an all-time great movie period. It's not just that Ratatouille is stunning to look at, brilliantly "shot," simultaneously hilarious and touching, and better than anything else anybody has released this year, it', sorry, my mistake, it is just that.

I got my hands on an actual iPhone over the weekend, and I'm now buying into the hype. It's not so much the phone itself that deserves the hype as the UI. It takes four seconds to figure out the basics of the touch screen and thereafter everything you think should work does work--scrolling, tapping, sliding, scaling, and so on. Also, the thing is incredibly sexy-looking. Not sexy enough that I have to have one myself, but sexy enough that I'll admire them from afar, with a kind of tragic longing for what might, but never can, be. Or whatever.