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March 2004 Archives

March 1, 2004

Need two one zero more contestants

I need five people for the free dinner pool and I only have three. Come on people, it's free dinner, and the cost of entry is free. Don't let Paul, Mike, and honeyfield's bets go to waste:

free dinner

Update: we have five contestants now, but more are always welcome.

March 2, 2004

Tufte's sparklines

Tufte has posted some of the material from his upcoming Beautiful Evidence book that covers his concept of 'sparkline.' Sparklines are essentially tiny graphics that can convey trends very quickly, and in some cases they can provide very specific data. They aren't earth-shattering -- most of them look like shrunken versions of familiar information graphics such as stock graphs -- but the idea that it is now very easy to embed such high-information-density graphics directly into our text is a good proposition.

Tufte briefly covered these when I saw him speak, but it's nice to see his written text, which I prefer to his speaking.

Edward Tufte: Sparklines

Concert: Liz Phair

this entry contains an image, click to view

meta, honeyfields, and I saw Liz Phair last night. meta already beat me to the post, but here's goes my thoughts.

First off, I'm not a huge Liz Phair fan, but spend enough times in meta's car on trips up to Tahoe and you'll have heard all of her old stuff multiple times over and it will start to grow on you. This also means I haven't heard any of her new stuff, with the exception of the lame video on MTV. So judge what I say accordingly.

The Good

My favorite performance of the night: 'Supernova.' This goes against the grain of everything else I will say in this review, because this song was cranked-up, full-ensemble-blasting rock performance. It ended the first set beautifully, and I think her guitarist may have even played the riff better than she does on the album.

In general, Liz Phair's best performances were with her older lo-fi material ("Flower," "6'1"", "Supernova", "Chopsticks," and even throw in "Polyester Bride"). I say this with an extreme bias, but her older material mostly shared the quality that the rest of the band didn't play as much. She was strong and charismatic enough to carry the song on her own, and her voice goes much better with her barely amped telecaster.

meta broke out the biggest grin when she figured out what Liz Phair meant when she said, "We like to bookend our sets. Sauce at the beginning with 'Flower' and sauce at the end," leading into the final song. I'll leave it to your amusement to figure out which song, but I will hint that you don't need to know the lyrics to guess the song (not 'Flower' obviously).

honeyfields also broke out an occassional grin or look of surprise when she understood the lyrics :)

The Bad

She mentioned during the concert that she had played at the Warfield before with just her and her guitar -- I wish I could have gone to that concert instead. This is the only time I've seen her perform, but I imagine that concert must have been better.

Like meta's review pointed out, Liz Phair and her backing band don't mesh. While meta approached this from a chemistry standpoint, I think the idea of having Liz Phair stand onstage with a guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and drummer just doesn't work, and the dynamics were terrible. Liz Phair, while a good performer, does not belt out the type of vocals that can soar over blasting distortion and bass. For some reason, who ever engineered her sound interpreted this conflict as an excuse for pushing Liz Phair's vocals through this boosted reverb that turned her vocals into a mix of clipping and echo whenever she sang the chorus. During the verses there was the opposite problem that the band members didn't know how to use volume pedals or strum more lightly, so her voice dodged in and out.

March 3, 2004

Talk: Research cultures

I was part of a four person panel that gave a talk on research cultures at non-PARC research center. bp posted his notes, where it should be obvious that I had very little to say. The questions focused a lot more on high-level/process questions (e.g. "when do you decide to terminate a project," "what about outsourcing research development to India"). I've only been at SRI for five months working on a single project, which probably didn't make me a very good panel member to answer questions about the research project lifecycle. I was hoping for more "culture" questions so I wouldn't sound so mute. At the very least I had a good time seeing everyone again.

I Hate Microsoft III

I've really meant to post these more often after I posted kwc blog: I Hate Microsoft I and II, but it's hard to post something everytime I'm confronted with more material. I found this one so stupid it deserves a post:

This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.

Any of you with Windows will have probably already seen this, but I just wanted to highlight the relevant portion. Apparently, removing a swatiska from a font (the reason for the update), requires a reboot. I guess you need the cleansing reboot to remove all the remnants Nazi symbols from your system. Actually, the symbol exists in the font set because it represents "good luck" in Hinduism/Buddhism, so really the reboot must be because all the luck that's holding Windows from falling apart disappears.

March 4, 2004

All consuming big brother

I've started subscribing to All Consuming, as in some sense we are what we read, and All Consuming show exactly what most people in the blogosphere are reading.

The thing that disturbed me about subscribing to this site though was the All Consuming top books from a week ago: 1984 and Brave New World both made it to the top five. To add to that, if you go back a month you get American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush as well as Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. If we are what we read, this can't be good...

March 5, 2004

meme propagation II

Via /. comes this mention of research at HP that is tracking the propagation of memes in blogs.

It would be nice to see something like this become dynamic and available as a real-time resource. It's interesting to see how memes like the visited states meme take off, and the possibility of being able to track a meme back to its sources seems interesting as well. The research only targets URLs, which does not fully constitute a meme, but it should provide interesting results. Maybe in the future someone will be able to track an meme across links/comments/trackback/etc...

March 6, 2004

LJ NASA

I first read the Spirit Rover LiveJournal page awhile back when the rover first landed on Mars. It was (is) a cute, anthropomorphised account of the Mars Spirit Rover (e.g. "all six wheels on the dirt, no problem. go me."), with slight similarities to the secret diaries.

After seeing a bunch of links to it again recently, I visited again, and the satire has been taken to a new level IMHO. There's now a competing OpportunityGrrl journal, and a newly started Cassini Saturn journal (you can't have a LJ satire without friends and foes). There's also trite poetry and some other gems that are worth a laugh or two.

March 7, 2004

Kona Shores

honeyfields, meta, and I stumbled upon Kona Shores, which sells Lappert's Ice Cream in the Haight. The store is only three months old, but honeyfields knows the owner from a store he used to own in North Berkeley. I haven't had Lappert's since I was in Maui for meta's marathon, and the Kona Shores owner mixed me up a nice combination of Maui Mango ice cream, strawberries, and mandarin oranges on a cold slab that was pretty yummy. I liked it better than the ice cream I got at Cold Stone Creamery, which was a little too heavy for my tastes. So if you've had a hankering for Hawaiian ice cream and haven't found any in San Francisco, or you want free wireless Internet access, you can check it out (at the corner of Masonic and Haight).

Concert: Matt Nathanson

To be honest, I still don't know who Matt Nathanson is. When we first got to the show we tried to peg the demographic, but all we could come up with was "20-30 something non-hipster San Franciscans that are of above-average height."

meta got tickets after her friend Joe recommended the show to her, so we went over to Slim's last night to watch him perform. He provides amusing commentary between songs that keeps the audience laughing and throws in some funny covers here and there (Prince, Neil Diamond, James, etc...). He's also a local boy and is pretty talented, but, alas, he's not my type of music. Joe has a quote on his blog that says, "Matt Nathanson-Beneath These Fireworks: This CD will go head to head with John Mayer and Howie Day!." Well, I don't listen to John Mayer or Howie Day aren't my type either, but I imagine if you like those two then you'll like Nathanson as well.

Joe also recommends Victor Wooten, who is playing tonight at Yoshi's (it's actually a Mike Stern show, with Wooten and Dave Weckl). Unlike Nathanson, I have heard Wooten before, and he appeals to my "amazing (bass) guitarist" interest. If you were lucky enough to have tickets to the Wooten show, I hate you, but you should post a description of the show because I'm still wondering how in the world Wooten plays some of his amazing riffs without growing an extra set of arms.

March 8, 2004

Amazon Arbitrage

In college, while I was taking a Microeconomics course, I found out there was a perfect lesson in arbitrage using the textbook for the course. It turned out that the textbook was significantly cheaper on Amazon's UK site. Not only did this save you money purchasing the textbook, you could even make a profit by "returning" it back to the MIT bookstore (this required that you find someone in the course who had bought it for full price, then offering some split of the profit). My memory isn't perfect on this, but I also believe that the price you got for selling it to the MIT bookstore used (which didn't require a receipt) still allowed for a small profit. I never took full advantage of this as I was far too lazy, but imagine the possibilities...something like this deserves extra credit in an econ course.

Now there is an online tool that makes this Amazon arbitrage even easier. It lets you search for a book on Amazon, and then compare prices across Amazon's UK, Germany, Canadien, and Japanese sites, including in shipping costs. This is an example using an economics textbook that saves you about $20 (I can't find my old textbook, which had a difference of ~$40+).

Half.com does something similar by allowing you to compare prices across multiple online sites, but pricenenoia is the first I know of that allows you to do arbitrage across different markets (US/UK/etc...), where price differences are more pronounced.

Citations, citations

Via /., comes this article about encylopedias being displaced by the Web. This is pretty much a no-brainer (why pay $1000+ when you're already paying for your $1000+ computer and monthly Internet), but the article did inspire me to go back to the Encyclopedia Britannica online site to see how it's grown (they had done a complete overhaul awhile back).

One reason why the online site might be worth the subscription fee: the bottom of each entry (example) comes with the proper citation to inlude in your bibliography in both MLA and APA style. Proper citation format, especially for online resources, was one of the biggest pains in high school, and there was often as much discussion about the citation style with the teacher as there was about the paper you were writing. By itself, it's probably not worth the yearly subscription fee, but I like seeing an extremely intelligent feature that makes it into the online version of a particular medium. If only Google could figure out how to do this automatically.

Spellcheckers for your Web browser

I got into a discussion on Kenji's site that evolved into a discussion about built-in spellcheckers for browsers, so I thought I'd repost that info over here. Both Internet Explorer and Mozilla have extensions that allow you to do spellchecking, which is really useful when you're blogging, posting, or writing e-mail.

- If you use IE, you can install ieSpell which gets positive reviews. I don' t use IE so I can't attest to how good it is.

- If you use Mozilla Firebird (not the newer Firefox), you can download the new spellchecker extension. It works on Firefox, but it crashes if you try to spell check anything that has a URL in it, so I wouldn't recommend it. It's far worse to lose a post than it is to have a spelling error. I imagine that a better version is coming soon, but just not now.

Your own feeds page

movabletypo.net has been updated with instructions on how to incorporate your own version of the movabletypo.net frontpage into your blog.
- Everyone: Guide: Having your own "everyone" page

(for those counting, this is entry #943)

My first iTunes Music Store purchase

I've managed to win three free songs from Pepsi cans (out of five tries from the vending machine down the hall). I've been debating my purchases carefully, as I would prefer to purchase songs that I wouldn't otherwise want to buy the album. One hit wonders fall into this category, but I'm not really into one-hit wonders. New tracks released just for a greatest hits compilation also fall into this category, as do B-sides for an album you already own.

I had my heart set on getting White Stripes' cover of "Jolene," as the vinyl 45 with the song on it sells for $25, but iTMS doesn't carry it. I then checked for the extra tracks that Soul Coughing had on their greatest hits album, but iTMS doesn't carry that either.

Nearly defeated, I saw a link on the front page to an "exclusive track," White Stripes' cover of Black Jack Davey, which is a B-side of Seven Nation Army. It's pretty rockin'.

Two songs to go... (Nirvana's "You Know You're Right" is a likely candidate)

March 9, 2004

bad design = good design?

Given that someone that I (we) know interviewed at ebay for a design position, I find this article amusing. When asked during the interview how to improve the site design, I guess a defensible answer could have been, "more crappy."

I'm not sure I fully agree with the thesis that "bad design = bargain = good," but one could also argue a "weakest link" theory, which I would outline as follows:

1) The design of the pages for the auction items is partly created by the sellers themselves.

2) If the seller puts up really a really bad design, there's not much e-bay can do to counterbalance it. In effect, the page looks as ugly as it's ugliest element.

3) It's better to be harmonious with the bad design than to create dissonance between a slick design and a crappy design.

though I still think ebay could look better than it does.

- Is flea market design successful for eBay? (kottke.org)

Photo iPod?

I've talked about ths with a bunch of people. I think it would be really great of the iPod had a color screen, video out, and also sync'd with your photo album. Combine that with the Belkin Media Reader, which allows you to load photos from your camera onto your iPod, and you have a pretty killer portable device. Here are some scenarios:

- If I was visiting my parents, I could pull up a photo album, set slideshow, and then have that play on my parents' TV.

- If I was having a party, I could load in some photos, select some music tracks, and have both audio and visual entertainment during the party.

- If I'm talking with someone and I want to show them a photo I took awhile back. I can just bring it up on my iPod. It won't be the prettiest rendition of the photo, but it beats carrying a printed album all the time.

Given that the iPhoto and iTunes are very similar applications in terms of how you use them/playlists/rating/etc... syncing photos in addition to music should be a very graceful transition and easy for users to understand. If I have enough space I could have it sync all of my photos, or I could just sync in my highest rated photos with a smart playlist.

So why did I bring all of this up? A story on Yahoo! News hints that a photo iPod might be in the works:
- A PhotoPod? - Engadget - www.engadget.com

Book: The Golden Ratio

book image

I'm not going to give this book a good review, so if you're looking forward to reading it, turn away now. I won't give a spoiler warning, as the book is non-fiction. How could I possibly spoil that?

Continue reading "Book: The Golden Ratio" »

March 11, 2004

Homeland Security, brought to you by Jennifer Garner

I found this too amusing to not post. I think I find it particularly amusing because it's a government agency using a fictional TV character to do its recruitment. The only thing more amusing would be Sean Connery doing MI6 ads (MI5 is hiring).
- Jennifer Garner CIA Recruitment Ad

Slanty eyes

eyes

This is a rarity on this site (an image of me). I did this with a bit of plastic wrap, meta's scanner, and honeyfields iBook. Except for resizing, this is the original scan.






es






Book: Foucault's Pendulum

book image

I finished this book a long time ago, and I've been meaning to write this entry for quite awhile. However, just like reading this book, I've taken my time saving up the willpower to write this entry. When I first picked this book up, I couldn't stand the first chapter, and it took a good three or four tries before I finally got enough momentum to vault through the book. Perhaps it's appropriate that I've waited until after I read The Golden Ratio, as both books share the same theme of the ability to hallucinate hidden messages in nearly anything.

I'll save the spoilers for the extended section -- this part of the entry should be safe.

Before this book, I had no idea what a Templar was. Maybe I'm a cretin. I had gone twenty-three years without noticing their presence, watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in complete innocence. Now they're everywhere. Just the other day I was walking through Amoeba Music, and there they were, sitting at the front of the CD rack, Templars. It seems like every book I've picked up since Foucault's Pendulum has a Templar connection: Seville Communion, 1602, The Magdelena, and The Golden Ratio (Rosicrucians). I hear The Da Vinci Code revolves around them, and that friggin' book is at the counter of every bookstore I visit. Kavalier and Clay has Jewish tradition/kabbala, Superman, and World War II Europe in common with the Foucault's Pendulum, so there's got to be a Templar hiding in their somewhere. Argh! This book has turned me into a lunatic.

With that bit of paranoia out of the way, let me say that Foucault's Pendulum is both a great and a terrible book. There are certain passages that are absolutely brilliant, and then there's the crushing weight of the overly ambitious plot. I would compare the structure to a book like Godel Escher Bach, though I use the comparison lightly because I think GEB is an awesome book that I liked thoroughly, whereas I only like Foucault's Pendulum intermittenly. To make the isomorphism:

Achilles, Tortoise <=> Casaubon, Belbo Crab <=> Diotallevi Hofstader's dialogues <=> Conversations between Causaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi.

I don't mean the comparison between Achilles, Tortoise, and Crab and Casaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi directly as personalities, as much I want to point out that, just as Hofstader saves the really clever bits for the dialogues, so, too, does Eco save the clever bits for his dialogues between his three main characters. And just as the chapters inbetween the dialogues in GEB can be fatiguing, so is the rest of the text in Foucault's Pendulum. In the case of GEB, the fatigue comes from the large amounts of intellectual ground Hofstader is covering, which is a good thing, because you're reading the book to learn. In Eco's case, the fatigue comes from overly frequent intellectual references and drawn-out storyarcs that try to unite everything under the Sun, from Templars to Rosicrucians to kabbala to love stories to World War II Italy to book publishing to philosophy to science to math to politics. Whereas Hoftsader succeeds in his attempt to bring math, music, art, and AI together, Eco's connections fail to coalesce.

Case in point, while I was reading this book, meta would ask me how it was going, and each time I would say, "oh, it looks like the plot is starting now, so I think the story's about to pick up." I said this at page 100, page 200, page 300... Just when you think that Eco's put his dominoes into place, he starts a new line that tries to extend the puzzle further, and eventually you feel that Eco is losing sight of the overall picture. This book takes soooo long to get going... (spoiler cut)

Continue reading "Book: Foucault's Pendulum" »

Heidegger Mad-Lib

____ being ___ being being ____ being ____ being ____ being ____ ____ being ___ being ____ being ____ being ____ being ____ ____ being ___ being ____ being ____ being ____ being ____

March 14, 2004

Black Ships and Samurai

My Japanese culture/history professors at MIT have put together an oline exhibit showing some of the Japanese artwork depicting the initial encounter between the Japanese and Commodore Perry. I saw some of this artwork when I took the class, and it will be nice to be able to go through some of the imagery once more.
- Black Ships & Samurai

Back from Tahoe

I was in Tahoe in this weekend. Essentially, I drove four hours so that I could sleep all day Saturday and sit in a hot tub. In otherwords, it was a very successful vacation.

I've got some photos in the queue that I've been meaning to post, so I'll round out today's posts with a series I'll call "Through the Looking Glass," which involves Ryowa, my digital camera, and anything I could find on the table that was transparent enough to take a photo through. As Ryowa is a noodle shop, the three things I ended up using were tea, rice vinegar, and chile oil. Maybe I should post this on the newly redesigned metamanda meatamanda :).

Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Tea

photo

Continue reading "Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Tea" »

Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Chile Oil

photo

Continue reading "Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Chile Oil" »

Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Vinegar

Vinegar is surprisingly Post-Impressionist...

photo

Continue reading "Photos: Through the Looking Glass - Vinegar" »

March 16, 2004

Pirate/Ninja, Elf/Dwarf Compass

compassThere's no test for this - you have to rate yourself. It's like the Political Compass, but more amusing. Are you:
1) More Elf or Dwarf?
2) More Pirate or Ninja?

For descriptions, visit From pirate dwarves to ninja elves...

I rate myself 85% ninja (b/c ninjas are sweet), and 10% dwarf.

(via blogdex)

Rumsfeld and imminent threat

The Center for American Progress has posted this funny-in-a-sad-way video of Rumsfeld. In the video, Rumsfeld, in his usual brash manner, accuses the press of creating the "folklore" that the Bush Administration called Iraq an "imminent threat," and he challenges CBS's Bob Schieffer and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman to produce citations that they did. No sooner than those words were out of Rumsfeld's mouth did Friedman come up with two quotes from Rumsfeld:

"some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent [but] I would not be so certain."
and to Congress (9/19/02)
"No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people"
Be sure to watch for Rumsfeld's stuttering answer.

(via Moby)

My Pepsi iTunes Stats

I'm now nine for seventeen on the Pepsi iTunes sweepstakes, which is surprising considering I'm getting the bottles out of a vending machine. I'm ten for eighteen if you include one instance of cheating, which I maintain was necessary: a sampling of the bottles of the supermarket made it clear that others were cheating, which meant that the contest was no longer fair, so it was necessary that I cheat as well :). Not quite game theory, but close enough.

Here's a list of my current purchases:
- "Black Jack Davey" (The White Stripes)
- "You Know You're Right" (Nirvana)
- "Heroes" (David Bowie)
- "Soul to Squeeze" (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
- "Dark Was the Night" (Blind Willie Johnson)
- "Fault Lines" (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)
- "Tracery" (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)

These pretty much all fit my criteria of songs that are:
1) not one-hit wonders
2) are not on albums that I would purchase

Blind Willie Johnson might be an exception to (2), as I may buy the album now that I've listened to the track.

I still have three tracks left to buy (someone gave me a winning cap), so we'll see how it goes.

Update: eleven for nineteen (~58%) 13/22 17/31 now

Updated to my transit511 rant

After my previous rant about how Transit 511 took over Caltrain's schedule and made it completely unusable, there's finally been some improvements. I claim no causality between my rant and the change, but I would like to believe that a chorus of similarly peeved individuals led to the change.

You can once again select and start and end station and view the schedule for just those two stations, a feature that existed on the Caltrain site before Transit 511 took over.
[Here's an example with Mountain View and San Mateo][sched].

<newrant>From the example, you can see that they are still really stupid and stick the schedule inside of an embedded frame, which makes it really hard to print. Interestingly enough, if you click on "accessible version" or "printable version," it gets rid of this stupid embedded frame. It's not that they don't have a usable version, it's just that you have to request it specially.

They also don't have the old feature that allowed you to select a start/end time so that you don't have to view the schedule for the 5am trains you'll be sleeping during.</newrant> [sched]: http://transit.511.org/schedules/detail.asp?cid=CT&rte=5081&day=1&dir=NO&fst=12%2CCALTRAIN STATION - MOUNTAIN VIEW&mc=stops&tst=23%2CCALTRAIN STATION - SAN MATEO&image1.x=15&image1.y=9

March 17, 2004

A new toy

shredderAfter experiencing an incident of identity theft awhile back, I decided that I wanted to get a shredder. While I was browsing the different models, I decided that if I was going to be doing something as anal as shredding sensitive documents, I might as well make it fun, so I splurged for the Fellowes PS70-2CD. In addition to shredding fifteen sheets at a time, it can also shred CDs and credit cards. It makes such a satisfying sound when the CDs are being eaten. Now that's entertainment.

WARNING: there may be no shreddable materials left in the house by the time pqbon gets home.

AI in computer games

I like video games. I work in an AI lab. I am compelled to post this: AI in Computer Games - Can Computer Games Employ AI Artfully? (ACM Queue)

March 18, 2004

Samplin' the google rankin'

I found an online tool that returns the GoogleRank of your site (via blogdex). I posted some samples here, mainly because I thought it was interesting to see how easily blogs can destroy search engine results. As you can see, meta's and my blogs are only one pagerank away from Neil Gaiman, which really just doesn't seem appropriate, because he's way more popular, his blog is far more interesting, and has been around much longer. Also, if you were to look at our Technorati Cosmos, we're nowhere close to the sites that Google puts us next to.

I could not figure out any URLs that were a 1, nor could I find a Web site that was legitimately a 2. For the site that came up a 2, I added "www" to the front of it, and it became a 3.

movabletypo.net: 0/10
kwc.org: 3/10
pqbon.com/1010blog/: 3/10
metamanda.com: 4/10
kwc.org/blog/: 5/10
metamanda.com/blog/: 5/10
zephoria.org: 5/10
macrumors.com: 5/10
www.whatever.com: 6/10
www.neilgaiman.com: 6/10
pvponline.com: 6/10
boingboing.net: 7/10
www.parc.com: 7/10
technorati.com: 7/10
joi.ito.com: 7/10
csszengarden.com: 8/10
www.sri.com: 8/10
cnn.com: 9/10
slashdot.org: 9/10
www.stanford.edu: 9/10
google.com: 10/10
web.mit.edu: 10/10

March 19, 2004

Pens and phones

I saw this Siemens PenPhone browsing through the CeBit news and it seems rather neat. The idea is that the pen is the phone, and you dial phone numbers and send SMS messages by just writing the numbers/text down on any surface. Not quite sure how in the world this would have a descent form factor, and you would probably have to carry around a headset in order to use it practically, but the idea is at least interesting.

The features of the Siemans pen would appear to complement the Anoto pen well. Some versions of the Anoto pen can use Bluetooth to link up to your cellphone, but they require that you use special paper for the pen to register your text. Also, the Anoto pen does not attempt to do any handwriting recognition and sends any text messages as a photographic image (MMS).

I would prefer a combination of the two products (separate pen and camera, handwriting recognition, no special paper), but I find them both conceptually interesting in their own rights.

Interesting approach to Social Networks + SPAM filtering

Loaf looks like a clever approach to using social networking concepts. The idea is that you try to identify non-spam by checking whether or not the e-mail originates from an address in your social network. That idea itself isn't unique, but what was clever is that the authors thought of using Bloom Filters to generate a small attachment that you could append to any e-mail. Bloom Filters allow you to test for membership, but they don't actually reveal the membership list. Using Bloom Filters and e-mail attachments:

a) decentralizes the approach (i.e. it doesn't rely on you being a member of Friendster/Orkut/etc...)

b) I don't have to reveal who my friends actually are. There are possible attacks that the authors are aware of, and their are tradeoffs in the amount of privacy this approach provides, but, in concept, this would be nicer than white list approaches (where only people in my addressbook can send me e-mail).

Granted, I'm still annoyed when I see .vcf files as attachments, so I'm not sure I would take well to this sort of attachment either, but it's a great start.

(via kottke.org)

March 20, 2004

Coolest Boy Scout project

This is a highly detailed account of a Boy Scout, who from various publications and writing letters to government agencies, was able to construct a partial breeder reactor. His only real failure came in his inability to obtain enough enriched uranium for a sustainable reaction. If you're interested in taking a few years off of your life, there's probably enough details in the article for you to make your own attempt.

If you like the article, the author has expanded it into a book.

1602 Annotations

Issue 8 will be upon us soon, so to help myself be prepared, I've collected links to all the various issues annotations out there. Jason Pomerantz appears to be the only person to have completed annotations all the way through, but Julian Darius' and Jess Nevins' both had very strong efforts for the earlier issues;

Issue 1: Darius Nevins Pomerantz
Issue 2: Darius Nevins Pomerantz
Issue 3: Darius Nevins Pomerantz
Issue 4: Darius Pomerantz
Issue 5: Pomerantz
Issue 6: Pomerantz
Issue 7: Pomerantz

Protest sign chique

meta and I stopped by the Iraq War anniversary protests today (sadly, San Francisco didn't get a mention in many of the news reports). There were probably a couple thousand people in Dolores Park, but nowhere near the one million estimated in Rome.

Political commentary aside, this was a good opportunity to observe cleverness in sign-making, so I snapped several photos that I may post on Monday. We were too lazy to march with the crowd to the Civic Center, where the actual rally was to take place, so we had to make do with the creativity that could be observed close by.

My favorite sign by far was a man holding a sign that said, "I COULD USE A DATE -- BRING THE TROOPS HOME." That's like the Scrabble triple word score of sign making.

My second favorite was the seemingly ironic, "I HATE CROWDS." The irony was ruined when we saw the back of the sign, which said something like "So get Bush out of office so I can go home." I would have preferred the sign in pure ironic form, but this was a antiwar protest.

meta enjoyed the grammer-dorky, "WHO'S BEEN TERRORIZING WHOm," ('m' squeezed in as an afterthought).

There was also one hot dog vendor showing great business skills. Most likely in preparation for the protest, he had his menu printed up with the header "Dogs of Mass Destruction," with renamed menu items "Nuke Dogs" and "Scud Dogs." This was a smart recognition of his clientele, though meta pointed out that he would do even better had he added tofu dogs to the menu.

Of the pure anti-Bush signs, some slogans I liked were:
* "Re-Defeat Bush"
* "IMPEACH THE DIM SON"
* "I am the worstest president in American history"

Robolympics

I'm such a dork, but I definitely want to stop by the Robolympics tomorrow. Here are the event listings. They have robosoccer, robot combat, robot sumo, robots fighting with fire, and much more.

March 21, 2004

Whisky!

I had a lot of whisky/whiskey at the Whiskies of the World Expo. After filling up on as much buffet as possible, several of us stopped at the whisky 101 course to train our noses and palates. Our first speaker was named McClure and the second speaker sounded like Tory McClure, so that part was a bit surreal, as were the occassional fake Scot accents via New York thrown into the presentation. meta was enthralled by the third speaker's self-made plaid dress.

After learning about the process of making whisky, we got to the fun part about grassy, malty, smoky, and floral taste elements. When I get my notes back, I'll fill in which was which, but I remember the smoky was Talisker and the floral was Dalwhinnie (Cragganmore might have been the malty). We then tasted some Johnnie Walker Black/Gold before they sent us out to use our new tasting skills.

wdj acted as our faithful guide for the rest of the evening, and we managed to blaze through the man whisky hall and speciality drinking hall. It's hard to pick/remember favorites, but I do recall liking the Bowmore single malts, Compass Box's vatted malts (meta ordered several bottles of Compass Box's Monster), and MacTarnahan's amber ale. The Talisker from the class was nice as well. Unfortunately, for me at least, there is such a thing as whisky overload, and I was happy to finish the evening up in the speciality drinks hall where I could fill up on non-whisky.

My favorite overall from the evening had to be the armagnacs. I've never had any before, and there four vendors in the specialty drinks hall. I sampled heaving from two of the vendors before the evening was up, and nearly ever glass poured was older than me, with the oldest being a 1944.

We finished up the evening at Anne's housewarming (I had to skip Dropkick), which was fairly packed. Those of us at the party who had gone to Whiskies of the World, though, were pretty much on our last legs. * whiskydrinkingjesus' post * ginfiend's post

Robolympics

I made it over to the ROBOlympics for several hours today. It was lots of dorky fun. There were some exciting robots fights, with plenty of sparks and metal flying, much more than I actually expected. I was hoping to capture a photo of sparks flying, but my digital camera couldn't cope with the high-speed action, and I also ran out of batteries.

(I will try to add photos to the descriptions in the entry when I get a chance.)

The coolest robots I thought were the Japanese bipedal robots, which look a lot like Japanime robots (photo). There were the lamest in terms of fighting, as they usually fell over under their own weight, and their punches were more for show than force, but they made up for their lack of fighting ability with style. Imagine one-two foot tall robots fighting it out as in a Japanese anime. There were taunting moves, flexing, 'power-ups,' waves, bows, somersaults, and headstands, and the robots could stand up on their own when they fell (which was pretty frequent). When the fights ended, it was usually a chance for the winning robot would usually do some winning pose/move.

I didn't fully understand how they worked, but each robot had one person with a fairly basic remote control, and it also appeared that there was another person controlling the robot using a laptop. I heard one person quote that they cost $7000 a piece, which sounds right for how much probably goes into those things.

There was also the more traditional battlebots-style contests. The wedge robot contests tended to be more than a bit boring, as it involve one robot driving around with the other on top of it for two minutes, though there were some wedge robots that were capable of flipping the other robot pretty high into the air. There was one robot that I liked, even though it lost, called Cyclone, which was a large spinning disc. When it moved you could see all the dirt/metal dust move away from force of it spinning. Vicious Circle out-manuevered it, though, and managed to dismantle Cyclone with a spinning blade.

The Mike Tyson of the robots had to be The Judge. It took out No Apologies with a single, pnuematic-driven blow. One blow, and No Apologies just sat there with a fist-sized dent in its top.

I also liked the Locust, which is a basically a buzzsaw with wheels. Despite getting thrown up into the lexan glass surrounding the stage, it managed to keep tearing large chunks out of its competitor until it couldn't take anymore.

My only disappointment was not seeing any of the flame-based robots, but there was only so many hours of robot fighting I could watch before I wanted to go home and rest up from last night :).

Funding research labs

There's a entry on /. about AT&T Labs' Brain Drain. I'm posting it here because it mentions the "[for some the last straw was the] loss of free espresso and bottled water." Hmm... seems familiar...

Why can't people who run research labs understand that research cannot exist in the absense of caffeine? The two are inseparable -- most of those researchers spent all of college working on caffeine-powered all nighters. For them, the psychological association between caffeine and determined, scholarly work is inseparable. Is it really worth the several hundred dollars a month to turn your researchers into bitter, decaffeinated zombies?

BTW - I'm very happy that the research lab I work at now provides free Dana Street Coffee. Not only do they understand our caffeine needs, but they give us high quality crack.

March 22, 2004

Stata Center + Brass Rats

The Stata Center at MIT is nearly complete (more info). I'm a Gehry fan, so I think that it's rather cool to get a Gehry building on campus. However, looking at the current photos, it doesn't seem as striking as I thought it would. Perhaps large amounts of brick-color, or bad angles in the camera shots, but it doesn't stand out like, say, the Disney Center in LA.

On a slightly related note, the new 2006 Brass Rat design has been announced, which I mention because it's the first ring I know of where you join two rings together to spell out the secret message.... MIT. The message is kinda lame, the idea is cool, in a dorky way appropriate to an MIT ring. Strangely, the report also says the ring has "ILTFP" inscribed on it. Did MIT suddenly get a whole lot nicer to its students? Did the school suddenly start caring about student life? Every ring I've seen has IHTFP, and if there were a "secret" message to be spelled out, that would certainly be a good candidate.

Blacklist good/bad news

According to the author of MT Blacklist, the time for MT Blacklist has come to an end. The reason for this is that MovableType 3.0 will be including TypeKey, which is a centralized user login system for MovableType blogs (the author is also ready to move onto other things). What does that mean? It means that when you want to comment on a MovableType blog, you login to TypeKey first. Presumably, spammers would be quickly identified, and booted off, but for everyone else registration would be a one-time process.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about this. User registration is one of the main reasons why I dislike Xanga so much. In Xanga's case, you can only comment after you've gone through the process of registering with Xanga. TypeKey would be marginally better, in that there's no baggage associated with registering, but part of me likes the fact that there are no deterrents to random strangers commenting on my blog. The other part of me hates the fact that this also makes it very easy for spammers, as well as people who take joy in being annoying.

In the latter case, MT Blacklist has been a reasonably good tool. At the time of this post, I count 952 comment spams that have been block by it, and it has also provided a comment deleting interface that Movable Type 2.x is sorely lacking. There was one particular case of visitor who thought it was amusing to try and annoy me by leaving 50+ comments on the site. With MT Blacklist, I was able to delete all of his comments with a single click. MT Blacklist is also a great idea, because, in general, I think in the long term it is a good deterrent to spammers to know that the URLs for the sites that they promote are being tracked and can be used against them (such as in the case of AOL, which has started blocking Web access to spammer's sites).

Depending on how spammers react to the introduction of TypeKey, I'll decide whether or not to start requiring user registration for MT 3.0, when it comes out. In the best of all worlds, it works so well that spammers move onto new territory without me evening having to enable to feature, but I know that is unwarranted optimism.

On a side note, I also wonder if TypeKey could make it easier to start building features such as making it easier to monitor responses to your comments on MovableType blogs.

ieCapture

These utilities are way cool, even if I can't get the second one to work. iCapture lets you see what your page looks like on Safari. ieCapture lets you submit a URL and view what it would look like on IE, Firefox, and Opera. iCapture works pretty well and returns the image in 30 seconds. I haven't gotten ieCapture to return anything yet, but it's still in 'alpha.'
(via asa)

Robolympics photos

As promised, photos from the Robolympics. I've posted a couple here, there are more in the extended entry.

photo photo

Continue reading "Robolympics photos" »

Protest signs updated

I updated the protest sign entry to now include photos of the signs I mention.

This entry doesn't say much, so I will add the fact that this is entry #976, for those who are counting.

Book: Brave New World

book image

After taking a hiatus from dystopias (1984, Animal Farm), I finally got around to reading Brave New World. As an idea, it's an interesting book. It's world of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, where the social hiearchy is manufactured through bio-engineering, which contrasts against notions of a future where bio-engineering is used to manufacture perfect, equal individuals. I also found it interesting the that the World State in Brave New World reinforces social stability by promoting, rather than depriving, citizens of pleasure.

However, as a story, I have a hard time convincing myself that this is a classic. The story is flat, as are most of the characters. The only character I thought was really interesting was Mustapha Mund, but he is in very little of the story.

Overall, Huxley has more to say than story to say it with. Perhaps this would have been better as a series of short stories, but who am I to judge a classic?

March 23, 2004

Flame wars

I'm going to reword this from the original post, to be less confusing, and hopefully less curiosity inducing.

Its generally bad etiquette to participate in a flame war on a blog, when the author of the blog isn't even participating, as that flame war invades that author's personal space. I breached that etiquette, and in retrospect, I should have done differently. It would be nice if there were an easier way to take a conversation that's getting out-of-hand, and move it elsewhere, an online version of "let's take this outside," or, ironically, "let's take this offline," but conversations on blogs are "sticky": they hold you there. Trackback comes close to doing this, but it's more of a technological, rather that social solution. Perhaps, someday, it will become a social convention, and someone can say "let's trackback this to my blog," and everyone will understand. But I digress.

My apologies.

Comments on Markdown

bp left an opening in his entry for me to offer my viewpoint, and seeing as I can't resist commenting, here are my thoughts on Markdown.

Markdown is a fairly simple way for people who write blogs to write their entries without using HTML. For example, "_this_ is markup. I **really** mean it." becomes "this is markup. I really mean it." There are other features for including links, images, lists, quotes, etc... that are, in general, really elegant for people who don't know HTML, and even for people that do use HTML, as it saves both time and effort. It's a whole lot easier to type *bold*, than it is to write <b>bold</b>, and you don't end up with problems where you accidentally forget to close an HTML tag.

Despite this, I don't entirely like it. You can still include HTML in the entry. Initially, this sounds like a good feature. You're typing your entry and you decide that you want to paste in an HTML table, so all you have to do is paste it into your entry. You get the best of both works. Markdown for the simple stuff, HTML when you need it.

In my opinion, this is bad. Markdown takes the characters *, _, [, ], #, `, and >, and gives them special meaning. HTML takes the characters <, >, and &, and gives them special meaning. With Markdown, you have to be aware of both. To me, this is the worst of both worlds, and if you happen to be a user of Markdown that doesn't know HTML, doesn't it defeat some of the benefits if you have to know whether or not you're writing something that looks like HTML?

The ability to include HTML is there for people that know HTML who want to pop out of Markdown when the what to do markup more complicated than Markdown can provide. It's an understandable crutch to provide, but one that hurts users that don't know HTML. I would have preferred this feature not be in Markdown, or for there to be a special switch to go between Markdown and HTML. The benefits would be:

1. You would never have any bad HTML generated by Markdown, which is one of it's goals. You could paste whatever you like in Markdown, and it would guarantee something valid.

2. Users that don't know HTML don't have to, not even a teensy bit.

3. No confusing grey areas where you have to guess what Markdown is going to do. (bp and I got into a discussion as to how to write '-->' in Markdown, which was only solved once we played around with the online Dingus tool. The correct answer was '--&gt;', which is most likely a bug in the current release.)

4. Bonus: it would be an excellent tool for writing HTML tutorials, as it's hard to write HTML in HTML.

BTW, those interested in Markdown might also be interested Textile, which has similar markup, but is geared slightly more towards people that know HTML/CSS. It includes escapes to switch between it's markup and HTML, but as bp pointed out to me, it doesn't have as nice of syntax for doing blockquotes.

March 24, 2004

Cal State Legislature in action

photo
Former Assemblyman Herb Wesson, D-Culver City, kicks Zhang Xiao Ju between the legs during a demonstration performed by Buddhist monks at the Capitol in Sacramento yesterday.

March 25, 2004

Bakumatus-Meiji period photos

samuraiNagasaki University has put up an online archive of photos from the Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. I like this archive a lot - the age has caused the colors to fade in a way that makes the photos appear to be paintings, and they provide a window to a period a hundred years ago.

There are a lot of photos of shrines and scenary, but I think the most interesting photos are those of people, including those of the geisha and samurai. I've included a sampling of some of these photos in the extended entry, but if you like them you should check out the whole site.

(via mefi)

Continue reading "Bakumatus-Meiji period photos" »

March 26, 2004

Short and sweet 3D

This is sick: cool POVRay-generated images using 256 characters or less (Round 3). To give you an idea of how short that is, the HTML in this post is exactly 256 characters. (via mefi)

March 27, 2004

Another photo of me

As there aren't enough photos of me on this site, here's a headshot. You might be able to make out the retainer I used to have glued to my bottom set of teeth as well as a crown (left, bottom). My mouth was open so that you the vertebrae structure at the back of my mouth could be imaged.

photo

Photos: Prelude B

Back when I did the 100 photos set, there were a lot of photo juxtapositions that I had to leave out; they either didn't segue into other photos very well, or one of the photos may have been required to complete another set.

This set, called Prelude B as I was initially going to post an A, B, and C prelude, falls into the category of photos that went well together, but not with anything else. The first photo is from Monterrey (a high percentage of the photos posted on this site were taken during a single trip there). The second and third photos were taken with meta's camera, with the second taken returning from Tahoe, and the third taken driving to Tahoe on a different trip. I made a slight change to the set and chose a different photo for the second than I originally intended, though they were shot at the same time using the same technique. I also "cheated" as I think the second photo is the only photo that I have color corrected (autofixed the lighting).

Continue reading "Photos: Prelude B" »

Old GUIs

It still amazes me that such a small team was able to produce such a seminal piece of both hardware and software: the Xerox Alto. This reprinted Byte article describes a bit of the history, and also provides some screenshots of the GUI that begot all future GUIs.
(via mefi)

Newsjunkie by keyword

PubSub lets you create virtual RSS feeds based on a search term. For example, you can subscribe to Nanotechnology, Stanford, or a search term of your own, and it will return articles from over a million blogs. Here's one I created for the mars rover.

If only Google News could add this feature to their search -- they have news alerts, but those are e-mail based.
(via Brad Choate)

Update: With Brad Choate (maker of fine MovableType plugins) showing up in the comments within 10 minutes of my posting, this made me realize that this is a powerful tool in support of Scalzi's Law of Internet Invocation. Instead of having to actively Google your name to find new mentions of yourself, PubSub will deliver all new occurrences of your name directly to your news reader within minutes of it being posted. Those Internet Spirit Summoning spells will work that much quicker now.

thaiwan

I stopped by jwz's site for the first time in a couple of years and came across a quick anecdote that meta might relate to:
- at home he's a tourist.

March 29, 2004

Is this Kaltix?

Awhile back, Google acquired Kaltix. Now Google Labs has launched Google Personalized Search, which adjusts your search results based on a profile that you fill out. Each profile consists of a bunch of categories/subcategories that you indicate that you're interested in (there's even a checkbox for birding).

The actual search is the cool part (it also makes me pretty sure this is Kaltix). When you do the search there is a slider bar that lets you select how personalized the search is. It starts off at "min," but as you slide it, the results instantly change to reflect your profile. I tested this with "armstrong." The top search result was "Armstrong Floor, Ceilings." When I started moving the slider, Lance Armstrong and Neil Armstrong moved to the top of the search results (I had checked "cycling" and "astronomy"). I was disappointed to see Satchmo drop from the results, so I went back and clicked "jazz" and Louis Armstrong stayed in the top search results.

The one question I have with this approach, though, is whether or not a high-level, explicitly declared profile is actually going to get the search results people want. I think one of the canonical examples for personalized search is searching for "Java." There's plenty of checkboxes for computing-related interests, but I don't see any for "Indonesia" or "Coffee" that might help out people who don't want results related to the Java programming language. At the same time, if there were checkboxes for topics as specific as "coffee," it might make filling a profile out a bit overwhelming. Perhaps, instead, there needs to be a ternary state to the high-level checkboxes: not specified, interested, NOT interested.

Lucid dreams

Anybody out there have experience with lucid dreams? I believe I've had lucid dreams twice: once over a dozen years ago, and another last night. In both cases, almost as soon as I realized I was dreaming, I immediately woke up, so I didn't really get to have any fun with it.

In my first lucid dream, I was racing around trying to escape from a fire. I raced around for quite awhile, unable to find a way to get around the flames. It then occurred to me that this was a dream, and that I could get out out of it by dying, so I laid down on the flames and woke up.

In last night's dream, I dreamt I was in a CD store and there was a Liz Phair MTV Unplugged CD. I picked it up to buy it as a present for meta and took it to the register. At the register they had another Liz Phair live CD, so I picked that up too.

As I was paying for the CDs, I thought to myself, "There's no Liz Phair MTV Unplugged CD," and I opened up both CD cases. Both of the CD labels said MTV Unplugged, but one was a little bit ephemeral, as if it didn't know what label it was supposed to have. As it dawned on me that none of this was real I woke up.

Anybody have more luck staying in their dreams?

March 30, 2004

I/O brush

The i/o brush seems like an interesting blend of computer technology with a traditional medium. Kids point the brush at an interesting color or texture, and then they can "paint" it on an LCD screen. The brush hides a small camera for sampling objects to paint with.

I also think that a nice application of this technology would be for e-mailing grandma your kids latest work of art. A downside of this is that boys are likely to start sampling each other's faces. meta points out though that at least there won't be any messy paint for the teacher to cleanup.

(via engadget)
ten entries to #1000...

USPS + Cycling

While browsing the lancearmstrong.com, I found out that the US Postal Service is considering dropping its sponsorship of Armstrong's pro cycling team. Personally, I was shocked. For $10M/year, USPS gets it's huge logo on the backs of cycling team that has won the past five Tour de France races. In also gets the main attraction, Lance Armstrong, who's a poster boy hero, the biggest American in cycling, and one of the biggest people in cycling in the world (not to mention Sportsman of the Year by both ESPN and Sports Illustrated).

USPS also gets to sponsor a sport that keeps its athletes clean from performance-enhancing drugs, one that doesn't calls its games on the account of rain or snow, and one where the main event lasts an entire month, which means that for an entire month on SportsCenter millions of viewers will hear "US Postal cycling team."

Finally, when in present history has anyone actually wanted to wear the USPS logo? (let alone pay $80-100 for jersey with a USPS logo, or $2500-3500 for a USPS-painted bike, $20 for a USPS hat, etc...)

More reasons why $10M is a great investment

* NOTE: The USPS is not tax-payer funded and has to compete against UPS and FedEx

Book: Against All Enemies

book image

(As I look down at my watch as I start this entry, I see it is 9:11, eery). I had been eager to read this book, partly because I wanted to see someone stick it to Bush's international policies, partly because it will most likely change the course of the election to come, and partly because Richard Clarke's career, spanning thirty years, would certainly offer much needed perspective on the evolution of America's relationship to the Arab world.

What I found inside Against All Enemies was three books. The first part recounts the events of September 11th from Clarke's perspective. The second part recounts the history of US counter terrorism policy and relationship with the Arab world from the mid 1970s up until the end of Clinton's presidency, with a large focus on the Clinton presidency. The third and final part of the book deals with the Bush presidency, briefly discussing its failures before September 11th, and then focusing on the failures of his post-September-11th policy.

In my extended entry, I recount each of these sections in more detail, but what was most surprising to me, was that the majority of this book is not a "attack Bush" book. Blind to the 9/11 Commission and the rest of the media circus swirling around this book, and asked to write a one sentence summary of this book, I would say

A history of America's counter terrorism from Ronald Reagan to present

In this function, the book is very insightful. You should read this book regardless of political viewpoint, as I, at least, found it to be the first cohesive and detailed history of the emergence of radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to America. At some point in our history, we transitioned from a Cold War threat to a jihadist terrorism threat, and Clarke is able to pull apart history to show us how this transition took place. One also gets to see how the gears of the CIA and FBI interact, how the Executive Branch analyzes terrorist threats, how our security policies in the seventies and eighties have come to haunt us in the present day. As a national security primer, one would be well served in reading this book, regardless of your personal political leanings.

Listening to the media circus surrounding this book, though, one would believe that it's three hundred pages of non-stop Bush Administration critique. However, of the three hundred pages this book encompasses, less than a third deals specifically with Bush, and of this third, not all of it is necessarily criticizing. Sometimes Clarke makes Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld look good, sometimes he makes them look bad. In the balance, though, he does make them look bad (Wolfowitz never looks good), and the book closes with an essay that can stand by itself as an informed critique of the current Iraq War.

From his vantage point, Clarke levels two main charges against the Bush administration. The first is that the administration ignored his warnings about the seriousness of the al Qaeda threat before September 11th, and failed to enact policies that could have possibly (but not certainly) prevented the attacks. The second charge is that by engaging America in a war with Iraq, we have only worsened America's defenses to future terrorist attacks: we passed up the opportunity to capture al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, we stretched our military and National Guard forces thin, we stirred up anti-American sentiment by invading an Arab nation without provocation, we've underfunded security efforts at home, we failed to promote an alternate ideology to counterattack the fundamentalist, jihadist ideology, etc... (there are many more)

Of these two charges, the first has gotten the most attention in the press, perhaps because the 9/11 Commission is naturally focused on events leading up to 9/11, not the response that occurred afterward. We also seem to be at a stage where we are looking to assign blame to particular people and administrations for failing to prevent the attacks. However, I believe that it is the second of these charges that is the most important to dwell on. What we did or didn't do to prevent 9/11 at this point is moot: we as a nation now recognize the threat from al Qaeda, and whether or not someone underestimated the terrorist threat is a question for the past, not the future. Clarke, himself, doesn't focus very strongly on the first charge, and his recounting of the events before 9/11 are offered up mostly as facts without follow-up analysis and critique.

Our response to 9/11, however, is still a matter of current policy, and it is important, as we look at our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, to decide whether or not our current policies are the ones that will best prevent future terrorist attacks. Although most of the book is a memoir, Clarke shifts gears to offer a detailed critique of how our second Iraq War has weakened our defenses to terrorism, while at the same time outlining what our national security response should have been.

There is a third, implicit, criticism in the book, which is that career civil servants, qualified, intelligent people that Clarke respects, have all quit (despite many years of service), due to frustration and the way the Bush Administration is handling it's security policy. There is also another, similar criticism, which is that enlistments are certain to suffer as the Iraq War is pushing extended enlistments for Army, Marines, and National Guard alike. These are serious criticisms, but ones that unfortunately takes second stage.

Reading the book, it's easy to see why Clarke is a threatening target to the Bush Administration. Clarke's views on foreign policy and counter terrorism sit well enough to the right to fit in with a Republican administration. He has no problems with using force to achieve foreign policy goals, including assassinating foreign targets and supporting the proxy wars as a means of fighting Russia. He is also against the Kyoto Treaty and the International Criminal Court (p. 273).

Clarke will also be difficult to refute because he is extremely specific with names, quotes, and other details. I am surprised at the level of detail he was able to achieve, and I wonder what sort of journal he has been keeping in order to make this book possible. Given that the White House has had a copy for several months now, and has chosen to challenge the book primarily with character rather than factual attacks, it would appear to me at least that Clarke is probably accurate in most of his recollection. It would be too simple to find the people involved in the conversations he recounts, or the documents that he refers to, produce them, and show Clarke to be incorrect if that were the case.

Even if you don't read my extended notes that follow, I would recommend reading the transcript of Clarke's, Berger's, Tenet's, and Armitage's testimony to the 9/11 commission, contradictions in Rice's statements/attacks, and the transcript of Rice's 60 Minutes interview, which includes this wonderful exchange

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I'm saying that the administration took seriously the threat - let's talk about what we did.

ED BRADLEY:: But no, I understand-

ED BRADLEY:: But you - you listed -

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: -priority.

ED BRADLEY:: You'd listed the things that you'd done. But here is the perception. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at that time says you pushed it to the back burner. The former Secretary of the Treasury says it was not a priority. Mr. Clarke says it was not a priority. And at least, according to Bob Woodward, who talked with the president, he is saying that for the president, it wasn't urgent. He didn't have a sense of urgency about al Qaeda. That's the perception here.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Ed, I don't know what a sense of urgency - any greater than the one that we had, would have caused us to do differently.

This entry is almost incomplete, and I'm too lazy to finish. I have yet to write my summary of Part III, and my Part II summary is still a bit scattered.

Continue reading "Book: Against All Enemies" »

March 31, 2004

Still not done

I've rewrote some of my original entry on Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, but I still have a little ways to go. I still haven't summarized part three of the book, where he actually criticizes Bush. If you somehow have been refraining from reading the entry until I finish, I will tide you over with this little diddy from the extended entry, which is my favorite anecdote in the book:

Clarke: "How can you be sure there are no Aum [Shinrikyo] here, John [O'Neill], just because you don't have an FBI file on them? Did you look them up in the Manhatten phone book to see if they're there?" O'Neill: "You serious?" O'Neill instructs a deputy to contact the FBI New York field office. A while later, he gets a note back O'Neill: "Fuck. They're in the phone book, on East 48th Street at Fifth."

what is this?

This page contains all entries posted to kwc blog in March 2004.

February 2004 is the previous archive.

April 2004 is the next archive.

Current entries can be found on the main page.