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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Praise Be!

Image redacted for the sake of eye-preservation

I was searching for the name of the city that Jesus rode into on an ass (for purposes nearly as irreverent) when I happened across this image.

This is a prime time to enter into the discourse the term pareidolia, which is a term which describes the tendency of weak and random stimuli producing a strong recognition response. When you see strange shapes in the clouds or faces in a carpetor you severely mishear English words in or out of foreign languages or in the static whispers of blank audiotapes, or in this case, the form of Jesus in a dog's ass, you're experiencing pareidolia.

Science supposedly has recently found evolutionary advantage in superstition on the basis that responses to imagined or unrelated stimuli may have spared the lives of animals by causing them to react to the imagined presence of predators, thus potentially saving them at a critical time when the predator would have gone unnoticed. This is probably most noticeably in the observable behavior of house cats who occasionally stare at a point nearby in space as if it were their greatest foe and flee or suddenly attack a sock.

It occurs to me that pareidolia may serve a similar purpose in humans. While it made it easier for us to recognize the patterns of our allies, enemies and prey, it also served to cause us to perceive enemies where none existed, potentially saving us in those occasions where the spurious recognition was coincidentally true. Superstition and pareidolia go hand-in-hand, and is most especially noticeable when we are children. The forms we perceive in the darkened room, our belief that something haunts our closet and under our bed, and our general overarching terror of anything we cannot see in our formative years is most likely an adaptation - our odds of survival were greatly increased if we had the good sense to run to mom and dad when it was too dark to spot predators.

It is also given free rein with certain kinds of blindness, resulting in a condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome or in the midst of a really good trip (or really bad fever.) There are always those who will see The Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or Jesus Christ himself in a moldy shower curtain (or Lenin) and be willing to drop some serious loot on it.

It's not all religious experiences and medically-caused hallucinations though. Some people like to have fun with the phenomenon.

Me, I think I'll try making a toast printer and earn some e-bay cash.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why don't you call me anymore?

When people talk about their formative years, they seldom refer to college. This is interesting because, on the whole, college and a person's first jobs are more formative of the personality they'll go around sporting for the rest of their lives than summer camp in 6th grade or how much time they spent being bored at Grandma's house on a rainy day.

The term Alma mater is used to describe universities. This term means (to embrace all possible meanings of Alma) "beneficent mother." Originally this just meant that you were a suckling at the teat of knowledge, but it's become more true in recent times than it was in 1088 when the phrase was coined.

So the question arises, as it does with all neglected mothers, "Why don't you call me anymore?" Most people spend more time communicating with the people they met in college than the people they met in high school, unless of course they return to their home town after graduation rather than pursuing a career in strange and foreign states. Census numbers show that most people who get married actually met their future spouse in high school or college with that number weighted toward college for professionals.

So given that we've established that college is a major and important part of life, forms relationships which last lifetimes and is responsible for the formation of much of your personality, politics and opinions later in life, why don't you call anymore?

Alumni associations are surprisingly small, and alumni involvement at most universities is reasonably slight - even the donations come from only a small minority of graduates. I'd be interested to hear whether college papers regularly hear from recent graduates who weren't involved in the college paper during school. So what's the deal? Why do people suddenly lose interest in their alma mater after graduation, save on football weekends?

The alumni associations at universities tend to be seen as a sort of good-old-boys network for the rich and famous and for those who were involved in campus governance in their glory years. Mr. Magoo and Mr. Burns in their fur coats with their 1921 pennants. This conception isn't helped by the fact that they charge dues as if they were a country club.

So how do you keep graduated students actually involved in current events at the university? I think the answer is the same way people keep in touch with their college buddies now: over the web. What is necessary is the creation of an entity which describes current events, but not in such a dense stream as the school paper, maintains discussion boards, takes polls regarding public opinion of major campus issues, makes arranging get-togethers easier, etc. Who would do such a thing?

How about the campus yearbook staff? They already have variety, life, politics, fraternity and sorority events, sports and retrospectives; why not have them continue doing this more often than once a year? Publish a digest form of the previous 4 years for graduating seniors, keep in touch with alumni who graduated as many as 4 years before to ask them about how previous events shaped current events. Keeping those graduates in touch with the university and interested in current issues seems like a proper endeavor. More public involvement with and awareness of the campus can never be a bad thing for the students who have to live there for 4 years.

Moreover, such a site, indexed, condensed, summarized by a diligent staff would produce something like an oral history of a campus.

We are living in an age where much of our culture is impermanent. Our media dissolves in under 50 years, our non-vital digital data from only 20 years ago has bit-rotted its way into oblivion, what digital culture existed 20 years ago is now lost forever save in the memories of those who lived it. We are in a time where history is an endangered species. Some things are worth preserving. The Quinn and I took a trip to a few libraries around campus just to find out what the old name for the Murrow Communications Center was before Edward R. Murrow was a pimp. It was surprisingly difficult. Yes, we found out. No, we won't tell you. Consider it an exercise.

I guess my point is that I don't really think that at site like this would be huge or popular, but it might snag that vocal minority who would have something to say about the campus and current events but don't because there is no venue for them to do it and they do not know of an audience who would listen.

I know I probably wouldn't.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But Isaac Newton beat me to it...

I'd like to be the first to say "Fuck you, Apple."

I've just spent the last week doing nothing but wrestling with OS X Server's incredibly fucked up postfix implementation.

Here's the deal. When a message is received which is addressed to a bogus domain or mailbox name (that's the parts after and before the @, for you Philistines), it's supposed to be silently rejected. That's just how the internet works these days. You don't blithely accept for relay all mail which comes to your computer.

Apple's system doesn't accept mail to bogus domains, but it does accept mail to bogus users. Sure, local_recipient_maps and relay_recipient_maps are two fine and dandy wonderful files which are intended to keep the server from doing that. The only problem exists when you are setting up a mail server which authenticates from another domain controller. Then Apple's setup automatically accepts regardless of whether or not "whatever" is a valid mailbox name or not.

This creates problems because:

  1. The server's delivery queue becomes filled with undeliverable mail.
  2. The server bounces the mail when it realizes that the queue is undeliverable, creating a bounce message via MAILER-DAEMON which then gets stuck into the queue.
  3. The queue now has a bounce message which is scheduled to be delivered to whoever sent the message, which, almost univerally is either a bogus domain name or some poor innocent bastard's email account.

The end result of this is that, in the best case scenario, our mail server spams some poor guy with a bounce message containing junkmail. In the worst case scenario, this bogus mail sits in the queue for as long as 5 days (by default behavior, thanks again, Apple) trying to deliver. While it's failing to deliver, the 2 outgoing connections total (once again, default behavior, thanks, Apple) are clogged up waiting for domain name resolution to fail.

This means that all of the messages which are attempted to deliver at this time are postponed for, you guessed it, the Apple defined default time of 400 minutes. When they come around for delivery again, if the queue happens to be full again, the message is requeued again this time postponed for a non-linearly increased time of > 400 seconds.

The end result of this is that with even 5-10 of these undeliverable messages sitting in the queue, the queue can get backed up for as long as 24 hours within less than a day of receiving an unholy volume of spam.

Aforementioned unholy volume being a number < 300 per day. As a result, the queue will often be sitting there with less than 300 messages (which should take at most 20 seconds to process all of them) for as long as 20 hours without attempting to redeliver a single one of them.

To quote Alice Cooper, "Welcome to my Nightmare."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Being an account of a lengthy quest to discover what to refer to elements of decor in wallpaper and illuminations as.

So I got a hair up my ass about what you call all those little traditional leafy and curvaceous patterns in illustrative work. I then set out to figure out what to call them. I encountered motifs, both vegetal and tessellated, insular illumination, drolleries, inhabited initials and various other curiosities.

In the end, I was no more illuminated than I was initially.

But I'll get over it.


…beinge an accounte of divers topic∫.

Tor and I had fome matter of difcourse yefterday about how awesome English was back in the days before there were any actual rules of grammar. You would Capitalize anything you wanted to Draw Attention to, tack the letter 'e' willy-nilly onto things in a highly inconsistent fashion, and just sort of randomly choose to insert the medial 's' which made it read as if it was an 'f' (now surviving only as the integral symbol in calculus.)

However, rules of style were still strongly in play. For instance, it was traditional to decorate the fuck out of a title page and include some description of what's going to happen in the book, usually in the form of something like this:

A Tale of False Cheeses

Beinge ann accounte Moft Dire of Travails fuffered in the procurement of a plate of Nachoes from an convenient store.

It occurred to us that it would be awesome if there were some person following you around phrasing every annoying thing that happened to you as if it were an Elizabethan drama.

I know that'd make me feel better at least.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Things I Learned from Dwarf Fortress p.3

  • Goblins are child-thieving blessings in disguise.
  • When the goblins start invading you, at first they're just annoying bastards who kill all the dwarves you need.
  • When you have repelled enough of them, they start arriving with steel weapons and armor.
  • These weapons and armor sell for a fortune to traders, and better yet, you can melt them down for metals (when on a typical map, you may be starved for metals for making your own gear.)
  • Above ground airlocks for keeping your merchants safe when the goblins arrive = priceless.

Press fail, Putin fail, News at 11

Putin is in the news now for doing something that sounds like Kim Jong-il-esque propaganda. However, the article has an interesting ambiguous modifier in it:

He helped measure the Amur tiger's incisors before placing a satellite transmitter around the neck of the beast, which can weigh up to 450 kg (1,000 lb) and measure around ten feet from nose to the tip of the tail.

Who else read that as one heavy damned satellite transmitter?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Making people see ghosts

I found a nifty publication from a team of scientists who are doing research which is just awesome.

I quote:

A large proportion of paranormal experiences occur in specific places. They are associated with a sensed presence, fear, odd smells, apparitions along the peripheral (usually left) visual field that “disappear” when directly (foveally) viewed, and auditory experiences (loud noises). Continuous measurements within these areas reveal bursts of low-frequency magnetic fields, ultrasound, and other physical anomalies that can directly affect objects within the space as well as the human brain.

We have simulated and reproduced these experiences by applying complex frequency-modulated magnetic fields through the brains of normal people who have experienced haunts.

In one case a young man and woman, both of whom displayed elevated scores on the Roberts scale for temporal lobe sensitivity, reported suddenly awakening between 2:00 and 4:00 A.M. The man experienced an apparition moving through their bed. Both individuals experienced odd sounds (breathing), marked apprehension, and the feeling of a presence. Continuous monitoring of their electronically dense house revealed repeated transients of complex magnetic fields with peak strengths between 15 and 30 mG, similar to those that evoke the sensed presence in our experimental studies. These peaks were concurrent with the reports of the paranormal experiences. The fields were generated by less than optimal grounding of the house.

I want a hat which can make me see ghosts too!

Amusing Spam

As the webmaster of The Evergreen's website, I get what we in the business like to call a "Sweaty Fuckton" of spam emails.

Mind you, for the benefit of those theoretical people that Hormel have hypothesized might be confused by this usage, I'm not referring to the well-known food product which bears the same name and is favored by Vikings, but rather to unsolicited email.

Of course, though unsolicited, it is not always unwelcomed. Say, for instance, you wanted to enlarge your wanger, or your jubblies. Or if you were looking for a pill to make aforementioned stand upright. The wanger that is. I'm not cognizant of any pill which causes one's jubblies to stand upright, but if there were such a thing, I'm sure there'd be a market.

Pursuant to the original point, however, I get a lot of spam email. Occasionally this email has the capacity to amuse me.

For instance, this email's subject line suggests what should be done with it:

Subject: Incinerate

Then there is the bizarre indian version of Engrish:

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love

Blessed indeed are the conspirators, for they shall inherit the earth.
However, my favorites are always the randomly generated clause messages:

Nothing like it [DETAILS] displeasing ducked

I ducked displeasingly three times in one day... My vehicle was being unkind to my head.

abominable tarp

Abominable tarp? Damn, I've gotta get me one of those.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Things I've learned from Dwarf Fortress p.2

  • Unfriendly Goblins suck. Hard.
  • Always build a wall around your important resources before building fancy tombs and offices for the mayor and complicated waterworks celebrating the richness and creativity of dwarven society.
  • If you don't have a wall around your important resources before the Goblins show up, you should probably just start digging a lot of graves.
  • Coffins are a useful thing to have a lot of in stockpiles.

Google Chrome

I'm torn on the subject of Google's new and shiny browser.

The UI for the new browser does all of the things I want it to do - minimizes the standard menus into a pair of buttons, leaves the bookmark toolbar at the top, turns the status bar into a floating tooltip whenever the status changes, takes up very little space at the top, usurps the standard Windows application window controls bar and replaces it with mo sexah tabs.

It loads in under a second on both of my main desktop machines, renders things more correctly than any browser I've yet had, loads Flash pages without delay and without having to install any plugins (that I didn't already have installed... I'm talking to you, Firefox.) and it makes thousands of Julienne fries.

However, it looks like Google has almost missed the point that Firefox has been making in its long struggle to eventual dominance for the last 5 years. Google Chrome has no add-ons, no options to speak of, no theme choices, no plugins, no zoom, no RSS support... Well, it's a shell of a browser. It's what Internet Explorer 1 would have been if Microsoft had given a rat's ass about performance and web standards. It's featureless.

Why is that is, Google?