Monthly Archives: April 2008

“‘Charlie Rose’ by Samuel Beckett”

Something has happened to PBS favorite “Charlie Rose.” The erudite conversations and sober intellectualism have been replaced by an absurd world where illogic, inane dialogues, and open hostility rule. The one-on-one interview between Charlie and his guest begins as usual but quickly goes awry, so much so that Charlie is warned that, somewhere, a man named “Steve” is “not happy.” Though this seemingly random statement might confuse us, Charlie understands it for what it is — a threat. But who is “Steve” and why is he angry? And why does the mere mention of his name stop Charlie cold? Using appropriated footage from a single episode of “Charlie Rose,” filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr. creates something both disturbing and farcical in “‘Charlie Rose’ by Samuel Beckett.”


Harvard Right To Serve

Birdhouse Hosting welcomes Harvard Right to Serve, a site promoting a student-developed program at Harvard University to put an end to the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is perhaps the most discriminatory law in our country today. Since President Clinton signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law in 1993 over 12,000 GLBT men and woman have been kicked out of the Armed forces because of their sexual orientation. The Harvard Right To Serve campaign is a student-led effort that seeks to end this injustice. From May 24-31, 30 students from Harvard University will embark a four city journey across America that will highlight the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In each city one openly GLBT Harvard student will attempt to sign up for military service. When their desire to serve is rejected participants on the Harvard Right to Serve tour will sit-in at the recruitment station to highlight the injustice of denying a citizen the right to serve based solely on their sexual orientation.

Music: Jimmy Giuffre :: The Bird

Brain in a Vat

Brainvat Miles (5.5) especially quiet as we were getting back in the car after an afternoon riding rides at the zoo. I asked him what he was thinking about. “Oh, nothing.” Then, two minutes later: “Daddy, did you ever feel like everything in the world is just your dreams and the world never really existed?”

A chill went up my spine. At first because it seemed so philosophical, and kind of precocious. But then I realized the chill was one of recognition – I remember having exactly the same thoughts at the same age, and actually becoming kind of obsessed with the idea that I couldn’t prove the reality of my own existence. Took 20 more years to realize that solipsism was actually a whole field of philosophy… the whole brain in a vat thing.

Another minute later: “Yeah, the world is basically a big ball of nothing.” Oh, great, now we’ve bridged into nihilism. Then, at break-neck speed, we snap back into kid territory: “I can’t make my pinky finger wrap around my other finger and I really want it to! … Can we get a dog?”

Whew.

Music: David Byrne :: (The Gift Of Sound) Where The Sun Never Goes Down

ALIPR Captchas

Captchas are so 2007. There are enough good captcha-breaking bots in the wild now that they’re pushing 10-15% success rates at decoding images, and can generate a new attempt every six seconds. Mail systems at Yahoo!, GMail and Hotmail all have been cracked in the past year. And Google’s Blogger service is under seige from spambots creating hundreds of thousands of splogs without human interaction — and they’re doing it through automated captcha cracking.

A new visual authentication system called IMAGINATION, from Penn State’s ALIPR (Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures) program, takes a very different approach. Working with random images rather than characters means the pool of possibilities is not finite (image recognition is far more difficult than character recognition). And the two-part process refines the human requirement further: Find a center, then describe.

Imagination

But while traditional captchas have had problems with accessibility, ALIPR is going to be completely off-limits to the blind. Oh, and it takes up a whole screen, rather than a few hundred pixels2. That sounds like a deal-breaker right there. Or at least a deal-breaker until we get so fed up with being cracked that interaction designers are willing to give up an entire page to make it stop.

Once you solve the captcha, the site invites you to throw your best bot at it. I’m thinking maybe five years before the bots crack this one.

Music: David Byrne :: (The Gift Of Sound) Where The Sun Never Goes Down

American Trash

Like many people, I have a relative who sends frequent email forwards of various ill-thought-out, thinly-veiled right-wing propaganda pieces. Today’s dose came in the form of a photo screed against the piles of trash left by Mexican immigrants as they cross through the Arizona desert on their way into the U.S. Here’s the webified version of it.

Sonoran2

Usually I just let these things go without responding, but today being Earth Day, I couldn’t help myself from hitting Cmd-Shift-R, even though I didn’t know most of the people on the cc: list:

Wow, that is truly sad – breaks my heart. Almost as bad as the mess left by “real americans” after a rock concert or sporting event. “About 400 city workers hauled almost 220 tons of trash left behind by the more than 1 million people who attended the concert…”

Even as bad as the local “gully” in many Appalachian regions where the locals dump their trash. Weird thing is, those rock concert go’ers and hillbillies actually have access to trash cans – they just choose not to use them. Must be really tough to try and escape from abject poverty into a hostile nation that used to welcome the tired, the poor, the weary… without access to a trash can. I wish immigrants were more like hippies and hikers (“Pack it in, pack it out!”) or at least would put all their trash in a pile or something.

I will say this though – it’s wonderful to see right-wingers starting to care about the environment! But when you think about it, a pile of trash like that is nothing compared to the Texas-sized gyre of plastic swirling around in the Pacific ocean that all of us have created. Or any of the other seven garbage wonders of the world.

Nothing compared to the environmental impact of a nation full of SUVs and corporations that won’t stop polluting unless there’s either a profit in it or the EPA forces them to. Would be interesting to see side-by-side pictures of patches of earth fouled by, say, a Dow Chemical factory and all Mexican immigrants to have passed into the U.S. in the past decade. Seems like Americans pointing a righteous finger at immigrants for polluting is a bit hypocritical, no?

Hey, I know – let’s all fuggetaboutit and go on a shopping spree – we’ve got three trillion bucks to spend! What’s that? It’s already been spent? Ooops.

./s

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Music: Nick Lowe :: Nutted By Reality

Apache, PHP Upgrades

PHP 4 is approaching EOL, and Birdhouse Hosting, like many hosts, has been in “pause” mode on the prospect of a PHP 5 upgrade for a while, cautious of the possibility of breaking customer scripts. We’ve also been running on Apache 1.3.x since forever. But after much research, finally decided it was safe to just go for it. Spent the afternoon and early evening compiling Apache 2.2.8 and PHP 5.2.5, all required modules, tweaking handlers, and taking care of a few post-upgrade burps. Everything seems to be running smoothly, with not a single customer complaint (let us know if you find anything not working!)

Stay tuned for a revamped hosting site and a new pricing structure in the coming months.

Oak Hymenoptera Redux

Six months ago, a certain unnamed geocache vexed and flummoxed Miles and I, and we ended up marking it DNF (15 minutes later I cut my hand wide open on barbed wire). Felt like we were so close and yet so far on that one (and it was a beautiful area), so returned to Carquinez today for a re-match. This time, we found it within three minutes, and it was a well-done doozy – a micro “Buffalo tube” tucked inside a tumorous growth on the branch of an old oak tree on a solitary hill in the middle of nowhere. Great place for a picnic, too.

Oak Hymenoptera (before) Oak Hymenoptera (after)

Miles was on a mission to photograph his Bionicles in natural settings, so spent half the day shooting macros of various Phantoka (and their off-spring) hanging from trees. If that sentence means anything to you, you have a 5-10 year-old-boy.

Snake

Also encountered a 4′ bull snake in the middle of the path, soaking up the sun, completely content to be petted and photographed. After a minute, it slid calmly off into the weeds.

Music: Joe Dassin :: Les Champs-Élysées

Three Trillion

Well, I got close, but no cigar. It’s painfully hard to spend three trillion dollars. Even with the Hope Diamond and the Hannah Montana Anti-static Pink Hair Brush in my cart, I was only able to spend around 80% of what the Iraq war will cost us (with veteran care costs included) by 2017. Not much info on the site on where the cost estimates for items below come from; I’m presuming they come from Stiglitz’ book:

“Just counting the zeroes on the $3 trillion price tag of the Iraq War is enough to induce hyperventilation. But what does $3 trillion really mean? It’s difficult even to comprehend a number that big. Well, try filling your shopping cart with what the cost of the Iraq War could buy: healthcare for every American? A new home for every subprime borrower now facing foreclosure? An Ivy League university? You haven’t even gotten started.”

-Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz
co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War

Here were the contents of my shopping cart, before I grew tired of making world dreams come true and stopped shopping:

Switch to Solar

1 purchased for $420,000,000,000.00 each

Universal Health Care

1 purchased for $3,067.00 each

finish repairing the damage done by Katrina

1 purchased for $200,000,000,000.00 each

End hunger and poverty related diseases

2 purchased for $195,000,000,000.00 each

Full Funding of Amtrak Passenger Service & Expansion

1 purchased for $2,500,000,000.00 each

Achieve Universal Literacy

1 purchased for $5,000,000,000.00 each

Broadband To Every U.S. Home

1 purchased for $100,000,000,000.00 each

100 New Libraries

1 purchased for $5,000,000,000.00 each

New Clothing, Shoes, Coats, and School Supplies for Ten Million Children

1 purchased for $10,000,000,000.00 each

The Hope Diamond

1 purchased for $250,000,000.00 each

Hannah Montana Anti-static Pink Hair Brush

1 purchased for $10.99 each

Plant 1,000,000 trees

1 purchased for $10,000,000.00 each

End our Dependence on Foreign Oil

1 purchased for $500,000,000,000.00 each

Kyoto Protocol Worldwide Compliance

1 purchased for $400,000,000,000.00 each

Help Rebuild Iraq

1 purchased for $20,900,000,000.00 each

Universal Preschool

1 purchased for $35,000,000,000.00 each

revamp the u.s. education system

1 purchased for $100,000,000.00 each

Build a National High Speed Rail System

1 purchased for $300,000,000,000.00 each

Fight AIDS in Developing Nations

1 purchased for $15,000,000,000.00 each
Music: Rolling Stones :: Yesterday’s Papers

Twitter Found My Phone

Amazing… just took a break from the all-day Journalism and Databases session we’re running, checked for recent Tweets, and there was one apparently from myself:

Hi.i found this phone.could you tell me how to find the owner..

A few Tweets later, messages from Xian Crumlish, Michael Fitzhugh, and Dylan Tweney, pointing me to the source. A block walk and I had the phone again (which I hadn’t even realized was missing until Twitter told me). Thanks so much Good Samaritan Silje for having the brilliance to check my address book and send an SMS Tweet as me, and to alla y’all for helping to track it down.

Xian’s book title is spot on: The Power of Many.

Update: Whoa! This little  dance just got covered on Wired.com’s blog (by Tweney).