Information is abstract nothing

Been a while, no? Oh well. I won’t apologize.

Here’s a thing, though. I’ve been arty-​​ing around, you see.

This lit­tle work is an exper­i­ment with kinetic art, the dif­fer­ence being that my medium is code and the frame is your mon­i­tor. It’s 1620 x 1000 pix­els. Six minute loop.

Screencaps, you want? Here’s one:


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Lesson learned? Likely, not.

Last week, two US Border Patrol agents were shot and one was killed. There were cer­tain ele­ments who were quick to start finger-​​pointing (“Border Patrol Agent Killed Near Drug-​​Smuggling Route”, says Fox News), notably Rep. Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. Both politi­cians are Republicans, but I’m not sure party affil­i­a­tion is entirely rel­e­vant here, given some of the unbe­liev­ably stu­pid things I’ve seen come from Democrats.

Here’s what Mr. Grassley had to say, in part:

There’s no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we’ll won­der for years if the guns used in any killing along the bor­der were part of an ill-​​advised gun­walk­ing strat­egy sanc­tioned by the fed­eral government.”

Well, Mr. Grassley, we do now know how Agent Nicolas Ivie was killed, and it won’t take years to know if Fast and Furious was involved. Turns out that Argent Ivie was shot by a col­league. Fast and Furious was in no way part of this at all — but I don’t expect a retrac­tion of his ear­lier state­ments, just a kind of squishy waffling.

Where it really went off the rails was with Jan Brewer:

What hap­pens next has become all-​​too-​​familiar in Arizona. Flags will be low­ered in honor of the slain agent. Elected offi­cials will vow to find those respon­si­ble. Arizonans and Americans will grieve, and they should. But this ought not only be a day of tears. There should be anger, too. Righteous anger — at the kind of evil that causes sor­row this deep, and at the fed­eral fail­ure and polit­i­cal stale­mate that has left our bor­der unse­cured and our Border Patrol in harm’s way. Four fallen agents in less than two years is the result.

It has been 558 days since the Obama admin­is­tra­tion declared the secu­rity of the U.S.-Mexico bor­der ‘bet­ter now than it has ever been.’ I’ll remem­ber that state­ment today.”

I’m bet­ting she doesn’t want any­one to be remem­ber­ing her state­ments here, at all.

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Exposed: Ben Franklin. Also, Franklin’s real schedule

You might have seen this before.

It’s sup­posed to be Ben Franklin’s daily sched­ule, and it’s used all the time by can-​​do types who want to make you feel inad­e­quate, because look at all the stuff Ben Franklin was able to get done before you’ve even shaved that three-​​day growth or changed out of your PJs you under­achiev­ing no-​​good slacker slug.

Twaddle, says I, twaddle.

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The medium is not the message

I won­der what exactly Jonathan Franzen is think­ing. I’ve read his The Corrections, and wasn’t that wowed by it, which doesn’t really mean much except that one book of his I read didn’t res­onate with me in the same way that his other books seem to res­onate with many other readers.

But then he tells an audi­ence at a fes­ti­val that ebook read­ers are poten­tially dam­ag­ing to soci­ety because of the imper­ma­nence of the words they dis­play on the screen (via CSM):

That kind of rad­i­cal con­tin­gency is not com­pat­i­ble with a sys­tem of jus­tice or respon­si­ble self-​​government.”

He seems to be sug­gest­ing that read­ing words which are not printed on paper some­how makes the expe­ri­ence of read­ing less real. Furthermore, it seems this unre­al­ity is so ephemeral in its nature that soci­ety itself will be desta­bi­lized as a result.

To con­flate the behav­ior of an elec­tronic device with the future via­bil­ity of a soci­ety seems a lit­tle exces­sive, doesn’t it?

We’ve had the inter­tubes for bet­ter than 20 years now, and in that time we’ve seen (prob­a­bly) petabytes of infor­ma­tion pro­duced on it — much of which is sub­jec­tively assess­able as noise. That’s easy to prove; how much of the inter­net do you not spend time pay­ing atten­tion to? Most of it.

(That doesn’t mean that the stuff you ignore is being ignored by every­one else, of course; it just means that your areas of inter­est don’t inter­sect with every­thing that’s avail­able to you. This is no more a prob­lem than the fact that there are prob­a­bly parts of your local library or book­store whose shelves you’ve hardly vis­ited, if ever. Time and atten­tion are finite, and inter­ests are sub­jec­tive, after all.)

The point is that this ephemer­al­ity of infor­ma­tion has not desta­bi­lized soci­ety just yet. Are things dif­fer­ent today than they were thirty years ago? Of a cer­tainty. Are things worse? Some are. Are things bet­ter? Some def­i­nitely are.
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Are we safe yet?

This from the Beeb. A Tourist named Leigh Van Bryan was barred from entry to the US because of some­thing he’d posted on Twitter.

The 26-​​year-​​old bar man­ager wrote a mes­sage to a friend on the micro-​​blogging ser­vice, say­ing: “Free this week, for quick gossip/​prep before I go and destroy America.”


In another tweet, Mr Bryan made ref­er­ence to com­edy show Family Guy say­ing that he would be in LA in three weeks, annoy­ing peo­ple “and dig­gin’ Marilyn Monroe up”.

The TSA inter­ro­gated Leigh Van Bryan for five hours. They then responded (empha­sis mine):

Mr Bryan con­firmed that he had posted on his Tweeter web­site account that he was com­ing to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe. Also on his tweeter account Mr Bryan posted he was com­ing to destroy America.”

Apparently it’s not just a sense of humor that the TSA lacks, but any sense of per­spec­tive or pro­por­tion as well.

Kill all programs before shutting down OSX 10.7 (Lion)

If you’re like me — and I know you are — you sucked up a copy of OSX Lion as soon as it was on the App Store, and were imme­di­ately infu­ri­ated by the check­box labelled “Reopen win­dows when log­ging back in”.

Why did you find it infu­ri­at­ing, as I do? Because you have to uncheck it every. bloody. damn. time you shut down or reboot. If you don’t, then what­ever pro­grams you had run­ning when you shut down will “help­fully” be loaded right the hell back into RAM when you boot again.

Apparently, some­one at Apple made the deci­sion that we want our pro­grams to reload every time we reboot, and to hell with what we think about it — because there is no way to over­ride this check­box set­ting.

There is no pref­er­ence to change it.

There is no way to make it go away.

If you for­get to click that check­box on shut­down, your pro­grams will all reload the next time you boot.

Those of us who use sil­i­con pigs such as Adobe’s suite find this set­ting not merely irri­tat­ing, but pos­i­tively infu­ri­at­ing, since it adds sev­eral min­utes to your sys­tem boot time.

There have been sev­eral solu­tions offered to deal with this. I check peri­od­i­cally to see if there’s been progress made. The last time I looked, I stum­bled across a series of AppleScripts writ­ten by Victor Andreoni that essen­tially send tell com­mands to the Finder, order­ing a shut­down and click­ing the check­box for you.

In read­ing his dis­cus­sion of his meth­ods, I saw that he’d found a default set­ting, TALLogoutSavesState, that appar­ently con­trols whether your pro­grams reload on boot or not. Unfortunately chang­ing that set­ting to 0 is not per­sis­tent; it’s rewrit­ten to 1 on each boot. What that means is that it’s a short-​​lived plea­sure; next time you boot your sys­tem, yep, the god­damned pro­grams load up again.

His AppleScript solu­tion is suit­able, I think — but there’s a prin­ci­ple in play here, and I’ll be hell if I let my Mac tell me what to do. So in Googling for more infor­ma­tion, I learned a cou­ple of other things, and fired up Automator, and did this.

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Congress declares victory over constituents

In a bold step for­ward for decreased gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of gov­ern­ment, Congress was able to declare vic­tory over the vast major­ity of the American elec­torate Tuesday. “This is an impor­tant day for all leg­is­la­tors,” stated Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-​​OH). “For years we’ve been ham­pered by the demands of unrea­son­able tax­pay­ers, but with this lat­est vote, I think we’ve been able to estab­lish once and for all who’s really in charge here.” Rep. Boehner then paused to weep.

I’m deeply sat­is­fied with this out­come,” slurred Senate minor­ity leader Mitch McConnell (R-​​KY). “In our vote to extend the debt ceil­ing and cut spend­ing, we’ve been able to pro­tect our real inter­ests, and for the first time since I was elected, I know we don’t have to fear being voted out of office as a result.” Senator McConnell was refer­ring to the refusal of the GOP to close the so-​​called Bush tax breaks on the wealth­i­est 10% of Americans, despite the sup­port of an esti­mated 70% of the American pub­lic for doing so.

We’ll just keep on get­ting re-​​elected now, since money is speech and pro­tected,” he added. “Money talks, and the bull­shit walks, so we don’t have to lis­ten to any of y’all’s bull­shit any more.”

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Why we don’t let cartoonists write policy decisions

About one in twenty car­toons by Michael Ramirez is actu­ally worth a read; most of the time he pro­duces far-​​right nitwit­tery that, rather than pro­vid­ing bal­ance or nuance to my openly social­is­tic and lefty views, sim­ply rep­re­sents cog­ni­tive noise. It’s unfor­tu­nate, too, because Ramirez is actu­ally one hell of a skilled illus­tra­tor. He clearly puts a lot of time and effort into his single-​​paneled gibes, but that seems to be the extent of his effort involved in cre­at­ing them.

Case in point is this sim­ple fal­lacy. See if you can spot the prob­lem (and in this case it has noth­ing to do with his politics):

What Ramirez seems to be miss­ing here is that the Y2K bug, the H1N1 out­break, and the I-​​405 prob­lems didn’t come about because there was a hell of a lot of work done to pre­vent them hap­pen­ing in the first place.

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Who is I?

Physics is a field that con­tin­ues to sur­prise. In the early 1900s the belief was that it was effec­tively fin­ished — apart from a few minor details, there wasn’t any­thing new left to dis­cover. Those few minor details ended up being the set of insights Einstein had which rev­o­lu­tion­ized our under­stand­ing of energy, mat­ter, space, and time.

While finess­ing what we now know as General Relativity, Einstein came across some­thing that didn’t make sense to him; actu­ally it so offended his sense of order that he chose to work around it rather than explore it. Later physi­cists, fol­low­ing up on Einstein’s work, found that it led to inde­ter­mi­nacy, which essen­tially means that we can­not simul­ta­ne­ously know a particle’s speed and its loca­tion. The physics of Quantum Mechanics devel­oped from that.

More recently, the LHC in Europe may have found traces of a sub­atomic par­ti­cle which might or might not tie together cur­rent the­o­ries in physics; or it could be a sta­tis­ti­cal anom­aly. And else­where, devel­op­ments con­tinue in teleportation.

Not the Star Trek ver­sion of it. So far it’s only sub­atomic par­ti­cles that have been tele­ported, but it is hap­pen­ing. Essentially what hap­pens is a particle’s state is ana­lyzed, dur­ing which the par­ti­cle is dis­as­sem­bled, after which it gets reassem­bled on the other side of the room. That it’s the same par­ti­cle is con­firmed by its quan­tum state — a sort of fin­ger­print. Eventually, we can imag­ine the same hap­pen­ing for larger items such as atoms, marsh­mal­lows, miss­ing socks, and pos­si­bly even liv­ing enti­ties such as gold­fish or people.

So sup­pose you step into a tele­porter one day, and zap your­self to the other side of the planet, where you spend some time shop­ping and eat­ing inter­est­ing foods. When you’re fin­ished you tele­port your­self back home. As you step out of the booth, you’re accosted by a wild-​​eyed per­son who insists that you’re no longer you, that you’re actu­ally dead.

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Footprints of a gigantic lizard

I can’t say with any­thing like cer­tainty that I know what hap­pens to us when we die. To some extent I think it might be a bit like the reverse of what hap­pened at birth, only a bit more rapidly and drastically.

Of course, what hap­pens at birth is itself an inter­est­ing ques­tion; after all, fetuses are viable before birth, capa­ble of liv­ing with­out the womb. You have to go back a num­ber of weeks to find a fetus that can’t sur­vive on its own. What’s intrigu­ing is that you don’t get signs of coher­ent aware­ness, of a string­ing together of con­scious­ness into the nar­ra­tive that calls itself I, until well after the baby has come into the world.

Death, on the other hand, can be abrupt. It can just as eas­ily be a grad­ual process, one that hap­pens slowly enough for every­one to get used to the idea. I have a feel­ing that grad­ual deaths are eas­ier for the loved ones to deal with.

From another per­spec­tive, though, we’re really dying all the time, in the sense that the per­son I was a minute ago — or an hour or a day ago — is not the same as the per­son that I am now. Even rel­a­tively minor events have changed my per­spec­tive, so it can be argued that the past me is dead in one sense. However, there is his­tory, there is a con­ti­nu­ity, there is that con­tin­u­ing motion of con­scious­ness whose entire job is to join together dis­crete, dis­parate events and sen­sa­tions into a beaded string of appar­ent wholeness.

There’s a rea­son for all this phi­los­o­phy in this post.

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Paper airplane template

Yes, that’s right. This is one of the things I actu­ally do for a living.

The back­story is actu­ally valid. Our occu­pa­tional health depart­ment offers, among other things, FAA flight phys­i­cals. Many of our local pilots seem not to know this, though, and are going to other cities to get the phys­i­cals done.

So to pro­mote our much-​​more-​​convenient local ser­vices, I decided to take the term “flyer” lit­er­ally and cre­ate an adver­tis­ing piece that can be folded into a work­ing paper airplane.

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Inverting black and white colors in InDesign CS5

One of the tru­isms about pro­gram­mers is that they pre­fer not to have to do the same thing twice. That’s why the good ones tend to start keep­ing code libraries, and the really good ones start doing sub­tle and ele­gant things with objects.

Coming from a programming-​​for-​​clients back­ground I even­tu­ally ended up in graph­ics (which was what I’d started doing long before any­thing else), at least partly because when you’re work­ing on some­thing for a client you’re never really fin­ished. You’re always doing the same thing twice. And con­sid­er­ably more often than that as well.

So it is that I don’t par­tic­u­larly like hav­ing to do the same design twice, nor do I like sloppy or inel­e­gant solu­tions to situations.

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