I had the day off from work today. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the sixties. I was not able to enjoy it. I have discovered a new malady, whose physical symtoms present and uncanny resemblence to having ingested a few ounces of molten lead and and being repeatedly punched in the nuts by Mike Tyson over a period of hours. Not to venture too far into the realm of oversharing, there was blood where there is not supposed to be blood. I feel mildy better now, as witness my ability to sit at a computer for long enough to type this.
I shall name this disease Dick Cheney Syndrome, because Dick Cheney’s thumb-fingered gun handling and media reticence is all the pinheaded lackwits on the news were talking about whilst I lay curled in a fetal position praying that God would tell Mike Tyson to cut it out with the nutpunching, already.
I would have named it Senator Reid Syndrome, because he pissed me off with some sadly typical asinine remarks. But no one will ever say, “Sen. Reid never goes hunting. He goes killing.”
Despite our catchy moniker (Moniker… that’s also how my Bay State neighors pronounce the name of GeekLethal’s wife...), the Ministry of Minor Perfidy doesn’t report much on actual acts of minor perfidy. That is because we are much busier behind the scenes actually perpetrating such, and preventing others, but the details of that we shall save for another time.
But it has recently come to our attention via Loyal Reader #0016, EDog, that Netflix are committing an actual act of petty betrayal. You see, they have structured their business so that their very best customers lose them money. When people use their service a lot, say returning 15 movies a month, the shipping costs eat up all the profit.
So Netflix did what any good perfidian would, and rigged the system. Now, heavy users are automatically bumped to the back of the line for access to the most popular titles, and the company will delay shipments in general for a day or few so as to put an involuntary cap on account activity.
Thought of the Day
I guess we’re all just lucky that Dick Cheney didn’t have the rocket launcher or railgun power-up yet.
[Wik] Ok. I’m done with the jokes now; Cheney has finally taken responsibility and apologized. Two days too late, but at least he did it. And, since we were all wondering, now we know exactly how drastic a situation has to be for a member of this administration to own up to something.
They Walk Among Us Now
The Japanese have invented a transforming robot just like the ones you used to watch on afterschool cartoons, only smaller.
It is, of course, only a matter of time before this goes horribly awry.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
When one finger just ain’t enough
I so, so desperately want one of these.
Multiple touch input, the wave of the future. The mouse is a relatively nifty means of input, in a backwards 70s sort of way. When you think about it, it is rather clumsy that I have to move my hand over here to effect changes on the screen over there. Having a large high definition screen that is also the primary means of input is a very cool thing.
If you haven’t, watch the video now.
Okay? There are several very cool things in there. The part where the guy is moving pictures around and resizing them - does that not look completely intuitive and natural? Drag a picture, and it moves. Move your fingers apart, and it embiggens. Reverse, and it shrinks. Likewise, the scrolling on the map. And the manipulation of the three-d tinker toy.
Combine that with some clever combinations of taps, double taps, and gestures, and you’ve got a wicked powerful, completely natural interface.
I want, I want, I want.
Hexapodia As The Key Insight
Slashdot is reporting on a story about a group of British researchers who have created a robot piloted by a slime mold.
While our usual mode of robot reporting here at the Ministry is one of shock and alarm at the continued efforts of humanity to enslave itself under the titanium thumb of our own creations, this is actually kinda cute. For now.
A bright yellow slime mould that can grow to several metres in diameter has been put in charge of a scrabbling, six-legged robot.
The Physarum polycephalum slime, which naturally shies away from light, controls the robot’s movement so that it too keeps out of light and seeks out dark places in which to hide itself.
. . . .
Physarum polycephalum is a large single-celled organism that responds to food sources, such as bacteria and fungi, by moving towards and engulfing it. It also moves away from light and favours humid, moist places to inhabit. The mould uses a network of tiny tubes filled with cytoplasm to both sense its environment and decide how to respond to it. Zauner’s team decided to harness this simple control mechanism to direct a small six-legged (hexapod) walking bot.
. . . .
As the slime tried to get away from the light its movement was sensed by the circuit and used to control one of the robot’s six legs. The robot then scrabbled away from bright lights as a mechanical embodiment of the mould.
The idea of a simple aggregate life form using its six claws to cower in darkened corners is touchingly cute, if ever so slightly macabre. But get this:
Eventually, this type of control could be incorporated into the bot itself rather than used remotely.
The thing to fear here is not that handi-capable slime molds will break free and begin marauding for stray humus to feed upon, but that the technology exists in the first place. Much like the jet-flying rat brains, the disembodied monkey-brain robot controllers and the robots that can recharge through eating, this technology is like placing a loaded gun in the hands of our future enemies.
Well, it’s more like placing a loaded gun in a safe deposit box and putting the key and directions to the Ministry Catastratorium and Gift Shop in an envelope marked “To: Future Enemies” with delivery instructions for 2025, but I find that metaphor ultimately a bit encumbered, don’t you?
When dealing with robots, it’s not the present you need to be vigilant against. It’s the future. Today slime molds, tomorrow, um, why not sharks? Sharks with six steel-clawed legs? Brilliant! I’m sure that cobras could use a hexapod platform too, the better to get around!
Note to Ministers: check the robot-shark-proofing around the Catastratorium’s surface lagoon.
[Wik] See a picture of the cute little terror behind the cut:
My Robot Double Takes A Holiday
In a perfectly ironic twist for an author whose works tested the limits of perception, paranoia, and self-identity, an animatronic robot in the form of reclusive and visionary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick has disappeared.
The Ministry is happy to report that Mr. Dick’s simulacrum is currently resting comfortably and snacking periodically on engine oil and madelines. It recently requested a word processor; our clinicians suspect it intends to begin writing once again.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Headlines From The Future: Whittington dies from Natural Causes
Three days afternoon being completely, utterly, totally accidentally shot by the Vice President after an innocent disagreement, Whittington dies from unrelated symptoms. White House doctors describe an untreatable case of “nervous stomach” as the primary cause of death. “That stomach just reached right up there into his throat, pulled his tongue down and choked him out”, said White House Physician Ken Mehlman. “We don’t know what Whit was thinking about, but something made that stomach nervous, and that’s that.”
Carnival of the Recipes
The new Carnival of the Recipes is up at Physics Geek.
Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by yours truly, the Ministry of Minor Perfidy. Come and see what foods we will enjoy when the apocalypse befalls us.
Friday, February 10, 2006
I share your rage but don’t torch that embassy
Krauthammer on the cartoon rioting:
What passes for moderation in the Islamic community—“I share your rage but don’t torch that embassy”—is nothing of the sort. It is simply a cynical way to endorse the goals of the mob without endorsing its means. It is fraudulent because, while pretending to uphold the principle of religious sensitivity, it is interested only in this instance of religious insensitivity.
Have any of these “moderates” ever protested the grotesque caricatures of Christians and, most especially, Jews that are broadcast throughout the Middle East on a daily basis?
... A true Muslim moderate is one who protests desecrations of all faiths. Those who don’t are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for the rioters, merely using different means to advance the same goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith. These are not defenders of religion but Muslim supremacists trying to force their dictates upon the liberal West.
I would have to agree, here. It is not the place of Muslims, anywhere, to determine through prior censorship (whether official or based on fears of violent retribution) what newspapers (or TV, or blogs, or magazines) publish. I remain amazed at the violence that convulses the Muslim “community” whenever something pisses it off. Which is frequent. Thirty five or more people dead, embassies burned, innocent Danish businesses harmed - all because, essentially, 1.6 billion people collectively can’t take a joke.
This will go on, protests and riots, attacks on the west, people like Theo van Gogh stabbed to death, because the Islamic world has a hair trigger temper and is not merely easily offended but actively looking for things to be offended by. What will change these attitudes? It is not reassuring to consider that ending pervasive religious intolerance took several of the vilest and bloodiest wars in western history.
History tells us that Joan of Arc, known as “La Poucelle” was only two hours away from a degree in Forestry Management.
There’s no bottom at the bottom there
My sports fanatic mother emailed to inform me that former Ohio State football star Maurice Clarett was on indicted charges of robbing two people behind a bar and carrying a concealed weapon. The 22 year old who once led Ohio State to a National Title in 2002 has now irretrievably blown his chances of a Heisman trophy, a professional career and earning millions of dollars. If convicted of the two most serious armed robbery charges, he would face up to 26 years in prison.
He turned himself in two days after the incident, apparently after watching OSU beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Had Clarett stayed with the Buckeyes and kept out of trouble, he would have been a Senior and playing in that game. Or, considering that he rushed for 1,237 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as an Ohio State freshman in 2002, that game might have been a second or third national title game.
Just pathetic - from his lame attempts to sue his way into the NFL draft, to his run-ins with the law, to this. Clarett had the potential to be a superstar. But all he managed was second rate thuggery.
The only liberal, nonreligious, civil libertarian pro-lifer
Nat Hentoff on abortion. The vast majority of those who oppose abortion are religious, and oppose abortion for religious reasons. Here is an exception.
Violins, Octopi and Ecumenism
Yesterday, I was perusing the DC Metro Blogmap for the first time in months if not years. I discovered there Dappled Things a local (to me) blog run by Jim Tucker, a Catholic Priest in the Diocese of Arlington. And on that blog, I found this link to a piece in the Post about some canny Swedes attempting to reverse engineer the genius of Stradivarius using computer modeling technology.
“The violin is easy to measure geometrically,” said structural engineer Mats Tinnsten in a telephone interview from Mid Sweden University. “Then you can measure how it vibrates, look at the frequencies and other parameters. You excite it with a loudspeaker, knock on it with your knuckles. We can do this as well.”
But after that it gets tricky. Violins are made of wood, and no two pieces of wood are exactly alike. Each violin, whether built by Stradivari or Tinnsten, is unique, and the challenge is to sculpt the wood—delicately shaving the top and the back—to “optimize” the acoustical qualities. Stradivari, working in a pre-industrial age, did this by ear and hand with unsurpassed consistency and artistry.
Tinnsten said his team can do it, too. “Violin-makers reduce the thickness of the wood with a knife, and do it in different places until they are satisfied,” he said. “We use the same method, but in the computer. We take an electronic blank and carve it.”
That’s a bold claim. But if he pulls it off, he’ll be in the long green making a new generation of Strad-level violins.
I also found this little bit of history interesting:
Stradivari, better known by the Latinized version of his name, Stradivarius, learned his trade from the Amati family of Cremona, near Milan. Beginning with the Amatis, continuing with Stradivari and finishing with Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, the Cremonese instrument-makers dominated the violin trade from around 1560 to 1750.
Stradivari, who was born in 1644 and died in 1737, was perhaps the most fascinating of the maestri. The Amatis, Sparks said, “knew how to teach violin-making,” while Guarneri was a tinkerer and a genius “who made a dozen violins that could outplay any Strad,” but he couldn’t manage it on a regular basis.
“Stradivari is the most consistent artist, with good sound, good looks and good coloration,” Sparks said. “Stradivari could consciously alter an instrument to obtain a desired result. I believe if you knocked on his door today, he could tell you exactly how he did it.”
I hadn’t realized that there were violins better than a Stradivarius. Of course, my musical knowledge is cursory at best.
I also found a wicked cool video of an octopus killing a shark.
By this time, you are probably wondering, what sort of site is this priest running? Where’s all the god stuff? Well, there’s plenty, including his sermons. One item that I found interesting was his link to a lengthy (Clueless lengthy) essay on the prospects of reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, ”Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room.” As an orthodox type person myself, this is something I’ve pondered on occasion. The Orthodox and the descendents of the Monophysite churches (the Orthodox refer to them as non-Chalcedonian, because they did not accept the Council of Chalcedon) have decided that after a thousand and a half years, the original schism was really just over semantic issues, and that it was all a big mistake. The idea that the Catholics and the Orthodox could perform a similar miracle, and end a thousand years of separation seemed less likely, though Father Kirby’s essay gives me a little more hope.
His idea that viewing the schism as imperfect - as are all human things is clever. Focus on how unity is preserved even in the face of stupidity, stubborness and vindictiveness. (Like the Crusaders sacking Constantinople instead of Muslim terrorists, or the mutual excommunications, etc. ad nauseum.) Nevertheless, despite the very real similarities between your average Catholic and Orthodox, and between the Liturgy and the Mass, there are also very real obstacles.
First, you’ve got the whole Pope thing. As most Protestants will likely understand, the Orthodox do not go along with the notion of either Papal infallibility or Papal primacy. In the east, there are fourteen “Popes,” although there is something like the notion of infallibility - when the Church, speaking as a whole, pronounces on something, that is something like infallibility. An ecumenical council can make statements for the whole church, but there hasn’t been one of those for a very, very long time. The idea that one guy can do that is a little odd to anyone who isn’t Catholic.
Most of the doctrinal differences could probably be ironed out, or declared semantic issues and ignored. But the biggest problem would be in the human resistance to change. Here in the US, there are at least a dozen administratively independent Orthodox Churches. Washington DC has at least three Orthodox cathedrals - that is, seats of bishops. Which is patently ridiculous, when you consider that these are churches that haven’t been riven by schism, and are at least theoretically part of the same church. This situation arose because when immigrants came to this country, they brought their churches with them. The Greeks set up Greek Orthodox churches, and likewise the Russians, Serbians, Macedonians, Syrians, Lebanese, Copts, Ethiopians and who knows who else. Each reported back to the home church in the mother country. So, throughout North America, you have multiple, parallel Orthodox hierarchies. The advent of Communism in Russia split the Russian Orthodox community, adding to the problem. Some areas might only have a couple orthodox churches - maybe a Greek and a Russian. But there are two Russian Orthodox Archbishops in DC, and at least one bishop from every major tentacle of the Orthodox Church as a whole. For an idea of the complexity of the lean and efficient Orthodox machine in the old world where things are simple, check out this brief primer on the Orthodox Hierarchy Orthodox Hierarchy.
If these churches cannot “unite” despite the fact that they are already united, what chance do two churches split for a thousand years have? You could start slow, I imagine, by just saying that the two churches are “in communion” which would mean that I could go to a Catholic church and not get beat up for asking for the Eucharist at the Latin Liturgy. But eventually, real union would stumble over things like, “Hey, there’s too damn many bishops in this town. Which ones do we kick to the curb?” In DC, to we fire Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, the Metropolitan Theodosius, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios, or the Antiochian, or the Serbian, and so on.
It’d be nice, but I don’t know how likely it would actually be.
[Wik] Ran across this little jokelet: “I don’t believe in organized religion; I’m Orthodox.”
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Let’s do the timewarp again
Ministry Crony Phil has discovered a mysterious timewarp. Unlike the cool timewarps that lead to Imperial Rome, or the battle of Gettysburg or Matahari’s boudoir, this one leads to…
A run down mall near your hometown in 1986.