Archive for November, 2008

“Counter-Terror” Really “Counter-Whatever We Want”

23:02 30 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:08 28 Jan 2009

In Britain, a Member of Parliament was recently detained for nine hours by “counter-terrorist” police forces, and had his phone and computer seized.
His heinous alleged crime?

The MP was arrested under common law “on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office”.
“Damian Green arrest: PM accused of contempt for parliament”, Andrew Sparrow, Nicholas Watt and agencies, guardian.co.uk, 28 Nov 2008


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15:14 28 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:08 28 Jan 2009

I thought about planning my next novel in November, tying that in with NaNoWriMo, but didn’t commit to it, and hence didn’t get anything done.

So I’m going to try to do it in December instead. I intend the first draft to be sixty thousand words long, and as stated want to plan out every thousand-word section, so the aim is to write one hundred words of planning for each thousand words, or two hundred words of planning per day in December. I’m not going to post those plans, since they’re not intended to be real prose—unlike the microfiction version of my first novel, each section of which was supposed to be passably readable in itself. Next month, then, two hundred words extra per day—which really doesn’t sound like all that much, right?

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Sarah Palin Turkey Video

23:58 27 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:08 28 Jan 2009

Short post today due to Thanksgiving. I know this has done the rounds already, but it just seems too apt not to post. One comment I saw said it looks like a scene from a Coen Brothers movie, and indeed it does:

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Controlling Public Opinion

20:18 25 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:11 28 Jan 2009

Maroni should do what I did when I was secretary of the interior. He should withdraw the police from the streets and the universities, infiltrate the movement with secret (provocateurs) agents, ready to do anything, and, for about 10 days, let the demonstrators devastate shops, set fire to cars and lay waste the cities.
—Francesco Cossiga (former President of Italy), Retribution and revenge, Roberto Mancini, guardian.co.uk 24 Nov 2008

Assuming some degree of “democracy” in a state, it should be rather obvious that those in power will do anything that they can get away with in order to sway public opinion in their favor. This clearly implies that they will do what they can to discredit any popular movement they don’t control, and this in turn explains quite a lot of the “extremism” on display at large rallies/marches/demonstrations, where there are suddenly lots of ‘protesters’ doing more or less exactly what would be guaranteed to stoke mass desire for crackdown/repression in the name of security. This also explains why those particular protesters don’t tend to get arrested: many of them are agents provocateurs.

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Book List

23:56 24 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:12 28 Jan 2009

I haven’t got any graphs, despite what I said last time. I had some, but messed them up while experimenting with Flot, and in any case they weren’t quite what I wanted. However, I did solve some of the other issues I was having with my book-tracking application, and am relatively happy with the current view.

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It Could Happen To Your City

23:27 23 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:12 28 Jan 2009

Ah, the “American Family Association”:

I really wish this stuff were a joke, but no. It remains really difficult for me to accept that people find other people’s private sexual behavior so frightening.

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Toyota/The Ring

23:55 21 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:13 28 Jan 2009

Over the last month or so, via various references on forums and in articles, I’ve somehow become aware of a television ad, or set of ads. They’re part of the Toyota “Saved By Zero” campaign, and people hate them.

Toyota have apparently come up with television ads so irritating that not only do people go to the effort of making the clip below, but people who don’t watch television (like me) nonetheless have enough cultural awareness of the ads’ nature to appreciate it.

(Vaguely on the subject of cars, I think that a buy one truck, get another truck free” promotion clearly indicates the arrival of financial/economic apocalypse.)

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Will Citigroup Collapse?

23:01 20 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:14 28 Jan 2009

I didn’t realize they were still in such significant trouble, but BusinessWeek reports they’re on the rocks. I’m not shedding too many tears for them, but a number of the figures cited in this article make for worrying reading. (Foremost being, if you’re a Citigroup investor, the 66% drop in their share price in November…)

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Cheney and Gonzales Indicted by Texas Grand Jury

23:47 18 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:14 28 Jan 2009

I doubt this will go anywhere, but a South Texas grand jury has indicted VP Dick Cheney and former AG Alberto Gonzales on prisoner abuse charges. When I first heard about this, I thought it was related to Guantanamo Bay, and hence an overreach by some eager locals, but in fact it appears quite related to their jurisdiction. It would be lovely irony if, after all they’ve pulled, they did get punished by a group of Texas citizens outraged over local crimes.

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Michael Lewis on Wall Street

22:49 17 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:15 28 Jan 2009

Michael Lewis returned to writing about Wall Street in this article for Portfolio.com, and naturally it’s full of the tidbits that are so great to hear about how our economy works (or doesn’t work, depending on your perspective). There are plenty of good ones, but my favorite is this:

[Eisman] called Standard & Poor’s and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S&P couldn’t say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. “They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,” Eisman says.
“The End”, Michael Lewis, Portfolio.com, 11 Nov 2008

Yes, those unbelievably savvy people at S&P, whose ratings department are/were supposed to be trusted with assessing the risk of investments/credit lines, simply didn’t have a “model” (that is, some black-box computer program of a mathematical formula some analyst thought would predict market movements) that could cope with the concept that house prices might, at some point in the future, not rise.

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Fun with Books and Data Models

23:56 16 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:16 28 Jan 2009

Fun might be the wrong word.

(Also, this is long. Condensed: I’ve been using Freebase to store my reading data, I wrote an Acre app to provide a custom view, and I discovered that my data model has some shortcomings.)

I’ve been playing with Acre some more, specifically on a long-term project of mine: to store data about the books I read in some system and then create views about my reading habits. Yes, compulsive list-making combined with programming/data geekery.

Anyway, I could have used a lot of other systems, such as Delicious Library or LibraryThing or Books, to store this information, but none of them seemed to have quite what I want (and most of them are proprietary). I could have written my own, and planned to, but kept tweaking with the data model and generally wasn’t sure how I wanted to deal with it.

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Math at the Call Center

23:44 14 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:16 28 Jan 2009

This is from late 2006, and you’ve probably seen it before, but somehow I missed it then, and I just can’t resist posting it. It’s pretty amazing, showing a level of innumeracy that I have a lot of trouble believing is real—even if it is.

Transcript of the call.
MP3 of the call.
Randall Munroe’s response to the whole thing.

It’s just crazy. A series of people who seem to have difficulty with the concept that 0.002 cents and 0.002 dollars are different. I don’t think they’re pretending to have trouble, either… they seem to actually be unable to comprehend what the customer is saying.

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Another Onion Classic

23:28 13 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:16 28 Jan 2009

I love this Onion article. In particular, the final paragraph is fantastic in that both-funny-and-sad-and-probably-true way the Onion does so well.

It reminds me another classic, also very close to the truth, that I might have mentioned before: Terrifying Bill Passed During NBA Playoffs.

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Acre Family Chart

23:51 11 Nov 2008. Updated: 19:51 23 Jun 2013

Freebase recently got a hosted development environment, Acre, and I’ve been playing with it. It makes it quite easy to develop applications using Freebase data (which is the point), and I’m eager to write some of those applications myself.

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No Punchline Necessary

23:15 10 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:17 28 Jan 2009

Yes, Bacon beat Fries in the the District 14 Colorado State Senate race this year…

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Progress on Race

23:58 09 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:18 28 Jan 2009

While Obama’s election is a sign of racial progress in the United States, Bernard Chazelle presents some interesting demographic statistics about how his victory came about.

Here’s one number that might surprise some people: whites voted for McCain 55% to 43%. (Note: I don’t buy into the suspect concept of “whiteness”, but this kind of breakdown is still significant given how many people categorize themselves, and others, this way.)

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23:08 07 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:18 28 Jan 2009

Really, how can people say things like this?

“You know, if you were a slave in the old South, what did you get as a slave? You got free room and board, you got free money, and you got rewarded for having children because that was just, you know, tomorrow’s slave. … Can I ask a question? How’s that different from welfare? You get a free house, you get free food, and you get rewarded for having children. Oh, wait a minute, hold on a second. There is a difference: The slave had to work for it.”
—Jim Quinn, The War Room with Quinn & Rose, 6 Nov 2008

I know that idiots like this go on the air just to spew controversial inanities that both outrage others and sit well with their base, but still. (Via Media Matters.)

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Proposition 8

23:52 06 Nov 2008. Updated: 23:25 02 Nov 2010

Amidst the mainly good news from the election on Tuesday was this heartbreaker: Proposition 8, California’s measure to eliminate gay marriage rights, passed. Not by a huge amount: the latest numbers are 52.5% to 47.5%, a difference of 500000 votes.

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New Era?

23:57 04 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:25 28 Jan 2009

Obama won, which was no surprise. I expected him to win comfortably, although I was surprised by how early McCain conceded.

Although I didn’t vote for Obama, I’m obviously happy that the McCain/Palin ticket aren’t going to end up running the country. In addition, the symbolic importance of Obama’s win is undeniable.

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Again, No on Prop 8

00:46 04 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:25 28 Jan 2009

When I wrote my post last week about voting no on Proposition 8, I didn’t even consider the fact that it would delegitimize the marriages of couples who have already been married in California. This ad reminded me about that, and also points out that the Mormon Church is strongly funding the campaign for it (because if it passes in California, it will be clear to people that it’s actually harmless and sensible, and this will discredit the typically apocalyptic rantings of many gay marriage opponents):

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Finish the Book, George

23:29 02 Nov 2008. Updated: 17:25 28 Jan 2009

Today I came across a blog dedicated to scolding George R. R. Martin about the fact that he hasn’t finished A Dance with Dragons. The fact is, I can see why the authors of the blog decided it was necessary. It’s been three years since A Feast for Crows, and the next book was supposed to be half-done when he released it. Worse, it’s been twelve years since the first book.

I know how hard it is to write a novel, never mind a good novel. A series of good novels, that’s certainly a tall order.

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