July 2005 Archives


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The Nebraska Attorney General's Office sends out a newsletter called The Consumer Advocate. I wound up on their mailing list when Lexis-Nexis had that nasty security breach (which, since I use the Lexis-Nexis database for school stuff, might have compromised my identity, not that it was "secure" in the sense that they like to push). So, on the back page of their most recent scare rag (let's not kid ourselves) which is all about the "Internet predators" who "prey on our children", they have a list of "25 acronyms that are being used by young people today".
One to one
Age, sex, location
Crying real big tears
Face to face
Fear, uncertainty and doubt
I love you
I'm posting nude
I will always love you
Kiss on cheek
Kiss on lips
Let's meet in real life
Nude in front of computer
Nosy parents
Online love
My parents are coming!
Parent alert
Parents are listening
Parents are nearby
Parent over shoulder
Sealed with a kiss
Teachers are watching
Want to go private?
Teacher over shoulder
Where are you from?
(For more gems, they have a PDF with almost 200 of them.) My question is, where the hell do they come up with this shit? Out of that list, I can only find three that I've ever seen actually used; of those, A/S/L is so idiotic it's a joke; I can't see why FUD should alarm parents; and NP doesn't mean nosy parents, it means no problem. Maybe next time they want to print this garbage, they should contact people who actually use the internet. Or maybe, if a parent's busy snooping in their kids' chat logs, it's time to ask their kids what they're talking about, instead of listening to people who have no idea what the hell they're talking about. Oh, wait. That would almost verge on personal responsibility.

Pucker Up

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It looks like one slipped by the sane people at the SciFi channel. (Link is to a large Quicktime movie - if you'd like a more generic link so you can pick your size, go here and click on one of the sizes under "Balloon Dog".) My... bleeding... freaking... eyes.... *claws*

Still waiting.
Originally uploaded by Erica Tesla.
Sam got in a little accident. He's fine, the other guy's fine, everyone was insured in the com-pre-hen-sive sense of the word, and everyone was on best behavior. May have been the lowest-stress car wreck ever.

Of course, he can't drive his car now.
Do any of you read those EULAs that pop up before you install software? I'll admit, I usually only read the first paragraph or two (unless it's a company that I'm aware has a history of including particularly onerous terms - hooray for Slashdot), and that for only about half of them. EULAs usually really suck. Not only is the language so far removed from common English that it might as well be Martian a lot of the time, but there's a certain sense that, whether or not you have an issue with something in the EULA, you can't do a damned thing about it. Need that industry-leading software package for work, school, or to complete vital parts of a project that's important to you? Agree or pay the consequences. Did you already pay, and open the box? Click the disagree button, and you have a very fashionable, lightweight box to display in a curio cabinet - fantastic conversation starters at parties! "Yes, I paid $1299.00 for Adobe Creative Suite, but I didn't like the some of the terms of the EULA. But it's a pretty box, eh?" That nasty verbiage (because they would never use a word like "language" or "text") seems pretty damned ironclad, most of the time, the terms of the agreement more dense and solid than a metal baseball bat to the head. But they don't have to be. Downloadable Mac software is particularly good about softening up the legalese, and avoiding most of the crap that makes us want to take a vow of techno-celibacy. First, Mac software tends to come with, at the very least, a time-limited demo. If you don't like the terms of the agreement, you didn't already pay for it. There's no box to open, nothing to return - just disagree. Second, a lot of the best Mac software is written by small, passionate groups of people. Not being separated from the user by a thick barrier of lawyers and advisors, many can (and do) use much more human terms in their EULAs. Some even have a sense of humor - and thank [insert deity]! Compare this to your typical, software mega-corp EULA:
By accepting this agreement you promise not to be a scumbag software pirate robbing hard-working programmers of their livelihood. Sure, I have fun doing this, but if I'm going to keep it up I have to put groceries on the table, you know? You are welcome to install Jer's Novel Writer on any machines you own as an individual. Corporations, businesses, and what-not do not have that right. If you're part of some giant novel factory you need to pay for a copy for each machine. Heck, let's just be reasonable here. Jer's Software Hut (the Hut) is depending on people like you who know the right thing to do. You know the difference between sharing and stealing (sharing good, stealing bad). If you need to ask a lawyer if it's OK to do what you want to do, it probably isn't. Why bother? The lawyer will cost you more than dealing directly with the Hut anyway. Just to make it clear, while you can buy a license to use this software till the cows come home, Jer's Software Hut owns the code. (In geek-speak, you own your copy of the binaries, while I own the source.) It would be silly to do anyway, but you're promising now that you won't try to reverse-engineer Jer's Novel Writer or incorporate any subset of it into some other product without express written permission from the Hut. I will give you the right, however, to make as many copies of this agreement as you want, and modify it and use or sell it to your heart's content. If you publish it somewhere, I would appreciate credit. (I can see my EULA-writing career blossoming now.) Heck, you're not reading this anyway. I don't know why I bother. I could put in that I have the rights to anything you create with this software, and you wouldn't notice. You've already clicked "accept" like a good little robot. I'm glad I went with the cheap lawyer.
(That takes the gold as my favorite EULA, by far. That's for Jer's Novel Writer, by the way - a fantastic little program that I use for far more than novel writing. I highly recommend it if you've got a Mac and any kind of thoughts you'd like to organize.) And finally, when nasty legal language (pardon me, verbiage) is necessary, some software houses make sure their users know that they're responsive to EULA-related concerns. For example, The Omni Group includes this text at the top of all of their license agreements:
The document that follows this paragraph is a license agreement. Why do we need such a thing? Well, to be perfectly honest, our lawyers have told us that we need to protect ourselves. We at The Omni Group pride ourselves on our low-key style, but the global nature of the software business means that one lawsuit from one user in a far-flung jurisdiction could put us out of business. It also means that, without this agreement, we might not have protection from people who misuse our software. We do not want to bet our entire company on such possibilities, however unlikely, because we like doing what we do and want to continue to be able to do it. And, so, we require you to read and agree to this license. We think you will find it quite reasonable. Obviously, if you disagree, click "Disagree." But, don't just stop there. Let us know. Send some email to <info@omnigroup.com> telling us what you find unacceptable about our license agreement. We can't promise to change anything, but we will do our best to get back to you.
The straightforward, honest approach is encouraging. I don't have any issues with the rest of their EULA (which I actually did read in its entirety, due to that paragraph), but I'm glad to know that my concerns would not fall on deaf ears. Now, I see these things as mostly typical of Mac culture - but I'll be the first to admit that I'm fairly out of touch with Windows and *nix software trends. I know that in my 10+ years using Windows software, I never read anything like either of the above examples, but I haven't read any Windows software EULAs in the last year and a half or so. As far as desktop *nix goes, I don't think I ever saw a EULA, other than the straight text from the GPL or BSD license. If any of you have similar (or other good) experiences on any platform, I'd love to hear about them. Oh, and if you're a software developer - consider softening up that EULA, would you?
Just in case you guys thought that I had a queer-friends-only policy (hee!), you should check out my buddy Michael Pallotto's blog. I may have to beat him with the Chicago Manual of Style, but it takes time to find your voice.


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I was chatting with my friend Jason earlier about the military buildup in China, and he brought up some good questions.
  1. They've built up forces to roughly one third of ours. Do they really think that's enough?
  2. Why would they want to go to war with the U.S.? If I'm not missing something, we're a substantial part of their export economy.
  3. Don't we have quite the list of Friends With Big Sticks? Does it make any sense to fight that?
  4. Why? Why? Why?
If you have some insight, leave a comment!

How about -

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With all of the movies of geeky hotness this summer (you know, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (seen), Batman Begins (seen), Fantastic Four (seen), The Island, Skeleton Key)* and the really sweet ones coming up this fall (Flightplan, King Kong, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, Serenity), I was tickled pink because I wouldn't have to sink to the level of watching romantic comedies to get my movie fixes - no, no, I could safely ignore everything ungeeky, because damn, there's just so much this year. And then I found out that there's a movie that I can't easily slip into the geeky glove - and I'm anticipating it far, far more than any of the above. They're doing Rent as a movie. And there's a blog, too. * Yes, we saw War of the Worlds. It sucked.
I suck at classes in which you have to memorize a lot. This seems to be a function more of temperament than ability, as I often show signs of an almost perfect memory. It's not that I can't memorize, it's that I hate doing it. I want to see a pattern, connections between otherwise trivial data and equations. You could say my avatar hates memorization and rotes. (But only if you were a major nerd like I am.) So I have a really good memory, but I very rarely ever put it to conscious use. More often than not, my memory manifests with the untimely revelation of crap you did not want to know at exactly the wrong time. (The example that popped into my head was discussing variations in bat guano at a wedding, which is weird, because I've never done that. I suppose I don't go to very many weddings. And I don't really know much about bat guano.) This probably doesn't sound like much of a curse to you, but what you don't realize is the practical implication of this with regards to academia. That is, I have this awful tendency to recall idiot mistakes I made on tests immediately after handing them in. Today's promising specimen, realized while congratulating self on feeling good about this test in spite of missing one of the lectures:
Air in a cylinder at 15°C and 1 atm is adiabatically compressed to one tenth its original volume. What is the final temperature and pressure, given that the air is perfect and gamma = 1.4?
Not too hard. To get the temperature, I used this equation and process (the y-lookin' think, for non-math/science geeks, is gamma): Thermodynamics problem: Finding final temperature where pressure is constant Overjoyed at finding how nicely the stuff I didn't know cancelled out, I moved on to pressure: Thermodynamics problem: Finding final pressure where temperature is constant (Incorrect) I'm sure someone's already seen the mistake I made - I used the same exponent from the temperature equation, when this one should have been one bigger, like this: Thermodynamics problem: Finding final pressure where temperature is constant (Correct) So much for 100%. Of course, it's just an order of magnitude off - it's not like I got the number and the magnitude wrong. Maybe he'll only take off a point or two.

Measured Positions

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Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring. I'm sure that's not news to much of anyone; it's on every news show and every news site and every even sort-of politically oriented blogs. I'm still going to give my perspective, though, because I recently discovered I have one and haven't yet decided to have it surgically removed. (Pause to remove tongue from cheek.) The ABC News article linked, along with most of the other articles I read reporting on the same thing (I know, I'm a very exciting person - you should see me at parties!), brought up the idea that she was "the swing vote". ABC News, at least, had the decency to put that moniker in scare quotes and let O'Connor comment on it.
"It seems to me that often people writing for public consumption try to find some hook to hang a slogan on," O'Connor said, "and that's not a slogan that I think is very apt."
Right on. Let's get a few things straight: A person is not their vote, whether they're a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States or Joe Schmoe. My vote for Bush last November does not make me a Republican. My vote supporting casinos in Nebraska doesn't make me a compulsive gambler. Next up: let's just kill the word "swing", please. Sandra Day O'Connor supposedly has a history of pissing people off. The hardcore liberal pro-choicers claimed her when she voted to keep abortion legal but got pissed off when she voted to limit it; the hardcore conservative pro-lifers got pissed off when she voted to keep it legal. Oh. My. God. You mean, she voted both for and against abortion? Screw John Kerry - buy this lady some flip-flops! (Re-removing tongue from cheek.) See, there's a wide gulf between flip-flopping and having a measured position. I haven't read an opinion by O'Connor that seemed unreasoned, or unmeasured, even the ones I disagreed with. I respect the woman because she wasn't knee-jerk consistent; the merits of the cases put before her were judged before she decided. So, she supposedly pissed a lot of people off. More true, actually, would be to say that she pissed a lot of very vocal people off. That's more accurate because most people don't live in the hardcore-liberal-pro-choice or hardcore-conservative-pro-life camps. Most of us sit somewhere in the middle - and that's true of most issues, not just abortion. Discussing abortion for the moment, though, you hear a whole bunch of dependent clauses when you talk with reasonable people: "I believe abortion should be legal if the mother's life is in danger." "I think abortion should be illegal unless there is clear evidence that the child is going to be born with a debilitating, terminal illness." "I think abortion should be completely legal, but I will give any other option much more support." "I think abortion should be legal only within the first trimester." "I think it's ok for victims of rape." Those are all actual opinions I've heard, talking to people. Some people had combinations of those. Some people had entirely different opinions that were still somewhere between "let's have an abortion-tupperware mixup party" and "if you have an abortion you're going to die and burn in hell because every sperm is sacred and zygotes are more human beings than mothers-to-be". Abortion isn't as contentious as everyone thinks. Almost everyone wants there to be as few of them as possible, regardless of their political stance on the topic. And the reasoned position is finding an unlikely (well, to me, anyway) spokesperson: Hilary Clinton. From a recent article in Time magazine, Andrew Sullivan reports:
Something very unusual is happening to some Democrats and pro-choice abortion activists. They're getting smarter about their strategy. For years, they've harped on and on about a woman's right to choose, while failing to capture in any meaningful way the moral qualms so many of us have about abortion itself. So they often seemed strident, ideological and morally obtuse. They talked about abortion as if it were as morally trivial as a tooth extraction--not a profound moral choice that no woman would ever want to make if she could avoid it. But that obtuseness seems--finally and mercifully--to be changing. Senator Hillary Clinton led the way in a recent speech to abortion-rights activists. She said something so obvious and so right it's amazing it has taken this long for it to be uttered: whatever side you're on in the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate, we surely all want to lower the number of abortions. Whether you believe that an abortion is a difficult medical procedure for a woman or whether, like me, you believe that all abortions are an immoral taking of human life, we can all agree on a third principle: we would be better off with fewer of them. And the happy truth is, abortions have been declining in numbers. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, since 1990 the number of reported legal abortions dropped from 1.4 million a year to 853,000 in 2001. The number of abortions for every 1,000 live births dropped from 344 to 246.
(For those of you who don't subscribe to Time, the full article is available elsewhere.) Perhaps our retiring justice is more than a reactionary. I think she's a better reflection of the American people than most of the justices sitting with her - for better or worse, but frequently better. Sandra Day O'Connor may have had some poor decisions in her career, along with some good ones. Let's not forget that she spent almost a quarter of a century trying to make wise decisions for our country. She's not a swing vote. She's a Supreme Court justice with realistic, measured positions.
In case you had illusions that the Supreme Court finding in the Kelo case wouldn't have much effect, tell it to the thousands of people for whom home-theft is now imminent given the judicial green-light. (Link via The Agitator.) While I see a lot of people slanting this case as America's big "fuck you" to the poor, I think that it's going to affect a much larger slice of the citizenry. Sam and I wanted to buy a home - probably one that needed considerable work, since it would be our first and we figured on making some extra money that way - but what's to keep Omaha from blighting the home we buy for condos? We're pretty firmly in the middle class, and this ruling just makes it that much less likely that the risks of homebuying will be outweighed by the rewards. Meanwhile, over at Reason they're talking about how these kinds of rulings happen (discussing Raich & Kelo, cases which seriously redefine and undermine formerly limiting clauses on government power). And our congress-critters seem to have noticed that we're pissed, and are using their spending power to make use of eminent domain for private gain a sour pill for those hoping for federal money. Nancy Pelosi, an idiot with too much power, thinks that the measure (which passed by a pretty margin in the house) is "in violation of the respect of separation of powers in our Constitution". Funny, I was thinking something similar about the 5-4 decision in the Kelo case (it's in violation of the Constitution, anyhow). It's interesting to hear someone posit that measures which oppose and counterbalance each other are in violation of separation of powers. I thought that the whole point was to limit governmental power, but hey, since when has Pelosi known anything about limited government? The Washington Post article linked notes that the measure to deny federal funds to eminent domain abuses went 231-189, the split going 192-31 for Republicans and 39-157 for Democrats. And Dems wonder why they can't win a Presidency or Congressional majority - 86% of them are apparently morons. Are those the kind of odds we want? Didn't think so. (If you're curious how your house representatives voted on this amendment, check the voting record; for Nebraskans, the reps in question are Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Thomas Osborne, all of whom, I'm encouraged to say, voted aye to block federal spending on eminent domain abuse. I should write them pretty letters. With... sparkles and perfume.) Time for me to go take my physics test, so I'll leave the ranting to others for a couple of hours.
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