Sunday, March 26, 2006

Unsolicited, Unwanted, Unending

About a month or two ago, the amount of spam I receive on a daily basis seemed to take an exponential leap, like some mass of wandering email address harvesters finally found their way home and unloaded their payload to the mother-spam-ship. It's only gotten worse in recent days, from a few a day to thirty or more. I can barely fathom the millions upon millions of this bullshit that is clogging up the world's bandwidth. I have to assume that at least some of them are viruses. But most seem to be trying to sell me software or meds I don't want, although sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly what they're selling given all the tricks they're trying to employ to evade spam filters. For example:

From: Tye Cuellar <>
Subject: Re: aaBam89 news

k C o I p A d L t I s S
b V r A y L h I y U w M
v V f I m A y G r R f A

B nt uy your k M y e q d w i e c w a v t g i h o d n o si nline at half
e p k r s i c c b e [Deleted Evil URL]
<Deleted Evil URL>

Or perhaps this one, which, while somewhat entertaining in its bizarreness, is still annoying when you get 3-4 of them. A day.
From: Martin Gray <>
Subject: Last offer- Discount special for PE patch almost over!

flowers sick funeral after orphans visit widows
fatherless write letters invitation condolence establish
Maybe it would make more sense if I saw the included images, but I use a text mail reader, so I guess that's my loss.

The other day, I took a moment to think about it, and the question that came to me was: do these people actually think I want to buy any of this crap?! I can only assume that some of this is due to people trying to MAKE MONEY FAST! with that sweet stay-at-home interweb marketing gig they saw an ad for in the recycler paper on the T. But c'mon, WTF?

Coincidentally, I saw this comment on Techdirt. And I suppose the answer is right there, truth stranger than fiction: there are actually some assholes out there that are actually buying this shit. [Here's an article on the economics of spam.]

So, to you out there, though I am sure you will never read this, to you I say:

Cut it the fuck out.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Democracy in Action

Fresh off the AP (but linking to because their article archives don't disappear):

Afghan Clerics Demand Convert be Killed

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.
Hmm, irony. I could have sworn that irony was dead.

Anyway, the article continues:

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death.

Hamidullah warned that if the government frees Rahman, "there will be an uprising" like one against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s.

"The government will lose the support of the people," he said. "What sort of democracy would it be if the government ignored the will of all the people."


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

And somehow, I can't help but think that part of this is our fault. We, and not just the members of our current, rather fucked-up administration, sure pay a lot of lip service to democracy, but is that *really* the cornerstone, the foundation of the strength of our country, our society? Rock the vote! I'm not even talking about the unspoken controversy of voter irregularities or the apparently deep divisions between vast swathes of the country. We put gravity on the ideal of "one man, one vote" and yet the reality is that in many ways, our individual votes don't seem to amount for much these days. It is a representative democracy, after all.

What does seem important is our freedom, our rights as individuals.

And somehow it feels like that whole concept is getting lost in the shuffle somewhere. There is occasional lip-service (terrorists "hate our freedoms," "Freedom will find a way"), but it feels like that's all it is. Attacks on our right to privacy. The effort to ban gay marriage. Blocked access to birth control.

It's not like we're trying to kill people because of their religious beliefs, but sometimes it sure feels like there's at least a tinge of religious intolerance, if not outright fanaticism in the air these days. And this country is no stranger to capital punishment. I mean, are we sending mixed messages here?

Sunday, March 19, 2006


By just looping around the neighborhood, I can get a pretty decent hill workout.

elevation map courtesy of Gmaps Pedometer

The route from yesterday ended up being just a shade over 4 miles. One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of living in the hilly/bumpy part of town.

Friday, March 17, 2006


That's how much you'd owe if you distributed out the current national debt across every man, woman and child in the country. We're talking everybody, from people on their deathbeds to newborns. I most recently saw this figure in an article on which discussed Congress' raising of the national debt limit. Interestingly enough, when I went back to the article, this particular statistic had been removed.

I wondered: did they pull it because it was an inaccurate statistic?

So I tried doing the calculation myself, doing a rough calculation based on the current 8.2 trillion dollar debt versus the latest census numbers (rounding up, of course) and confirmed the number was in the right ballpark. (I got $27,333.33, but you'll get $30k when we hit the new debt limit that just passed. And sorry, $27k doesn't really make me feel any happier) And eventually I stumbled on this site which confirmed it.

Yeah, so much for that liberal media bias. I remember a website that was keeping track of these things (they kept screenshots of news site in order to monitor edits and redactions of articles) but I never bookmarked it (hey, I've been trying to steer clear of this stuff) and I can't remember where I saw the original reference. (Anyone else know what I'm talking about?) It's just as well, I suppose; feeling pretty powerless these days as it is.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Non-zero and being Risk-Averse

As an applied physics major in college, one of the things that I found difficult was solving many of the more complex equations that you would come across in mechanics (Orbital equations), E&M (Maxwell's equations), quantum mechanics (Schrodinger's) and the like. This is not to say that I didn't like or wasn't any good at math. But when solving such equations, you invariably needed to reduce some number of terms to zero because they were negligible relative to the other terms, and I just never could wrap my head around that. (As an example, take a look at equations 4.53-4.55 here)

At what point does it really become negligible? A hundred to one? A thousand? I mean, it's non-zero, right? That means it's gotta have some kind of effect, or so I thought.

In what may appear to be an unrelated note, Monkeyboy linked to this cool article a few days (weeks?) ago. Even though the article is about risk, I particularly like this quote:

Advice to people wishing to become smarter: Get in the habit of assuming that everything is more complex than you imagine.

Anyway, it makes some interesting points on how to evaluate risk -- beyond just straight probabilities and expected ROI -- using examples of the lottery, insurance and... Russian Roulette. The author suggests that, as a thought experiment, you might consider how much you value your own life, in very tangible, quantitative terms:
Suppose you have the option to play Russian Roulette, in return for which you will receive a fee of x. The gun has one million chambers, one of which holds a bullet. If you get the bullet, you die. Otherwise you collect the fee. What is the minimum value for x that will induce you to play? Would you play if x were one million dollars?
The author says he'd do it for a million. (the discussion follows with another step or two.) Me, I couldn't find a workable number for x. I'm sure part of that stems from a lesson I learned a number of years ago that can be summarized in a fortune that read: "an ounce of gold cannot buy an ounce of time." (Let's just say bonus plans can be evil. In essence, for a carrot, THEY OWN YOU. Ok, lesson learned.) But, I think a larger aspect is that even when you're talking about a million to one odds, IT'S STILL ONE -- a finite number. Non-zero, baby. And you know what? Shit happens. Shit happens to me. And I guess maybe I value life too much. Perhaps under other circumstances, my response might differ. But given my present circumstances, I value life, my life, too much. Or at least I value it more than money.

Unexpected Integrity

I don't know Jessica Simpson from, well, nobody. I really have no idea what kind of person she is. But reading this earns her points in my book, for what that's worth.

People close to Simpson said she declined a request to appear that same evening at the gala fund-raiser of the National Republican Congressional Committee -- even after she was offered some private face time with Bush -- because Operation Smile is a non-partisan group.

"It just feels wrong," one Simpson insider told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that the actress keeps her political views private. "She would love to meet the president and talk about Operation Smile ... but she can't do it at a fund-raiser for the Republican Party."

I supppose that as a celebrity, she doesn't *have* to pay for access the way most people do. But I think her actions aid the common good by simply providing visibility into how these things normally work.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cool and not even remotely cool

Gmaps Pedometer: a new tool by Google that allows you to measure walking distances. (Quite helpful for figuring out distances of running routes.)

Not Cool
The Sneeze has observed that some non-sugar free items have started adding Aspartame, apparently just for shits-and-giggles... seeing as they still have sugar in them. WTF?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Yet more disappointment

No clients for clinic, again. Two timeslots, no people.

They were able to find a fill-in for my second appointment slot, but then they never showed up. For those of you keeping score at home, that's three out of four days that I've had cancellations, no-shows or unfilled timeslots, two out of four that I've had no clients at all. Boy this sucks. (Oh yeah, and the five guys in our half of the class made up five of the six people who didn't have clients in the second session.)

And after getting all stressed out by the experience, I ended up giving a crappy massage to a classmate during the remaining time in the first session*. At least that was something of a learning experience -- I need to get myself grounded and just let go of everything that's external to the task at hand. (no pun intended) Sadly, I kinda already know that it's something I need to work on. And part of what I learned today is that sometimes I can still be discombobulated and disconnected, even when I think I'm settled and I've got it together. Quite troubling, really.

And it's gonna be tricky to figure it out, if it's even figure-outable.

* I did a better job of getting my head together for the second session (with another classmate) after getting feedback from the first. So the first session really was helpful, but it was still disappointing that my classmate got a crappy massage.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A different kind of disappointment

This winter we've had a phenomenal turnout for weekend pickup disc. Granted, it's been pretty temperate this year, but there have also been several days barely in the 20's, ground frozen with 10-20MPH winds bringing the windchill down into the teens. And even on those days, we've had enough players for 6-on-6.

So today, the first Saturday where it's been above 6040°F in over a month. Crickey, it was over 60°F today! And at 11am, there are 5 of us. We get a game of 3-on-3 going, with a sub just before noon and eventually get fours by around 12:40 when Lenlow shows up.

It's beautiful and sunny, if a bit breezy, and we can't even get 10 people to show up? WTF?

It's embarrassing, I tell you.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Since I'm venting...

Here's what turned up today that provides evidence on what's wrong with:

Penn & Teller call Bullshit...

...on the Patriot Act:

'Other Purposes?'

What the fuck is that all about?! 'Other Purposes?'

You shouldn't even allow that kind of loose language in a fucking gym membership contract.

God bless Penn and Teller.

'Course, this is just about the legal stuff, as opposed to the, well, other stuff.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


As is often the case, this starts from Monkeyboy's Links. You really should just go there.

But here's a summary of the things that have been seeping into my brain (from mkb and elsewhere) and getting me all hot and bothered:

  • I keep hearing about all the controversy over the Dubai "take-over" of U.S. shipping ports, but as much as I think the current administration sucks ass, this really seems like a non-issue. Thank you Robert Reich for making the case, not that anybody is listening. Democrats are trying to pound the administration for it, but it seems like pointless political posturing that would make them look foolish if they weren't also being flanked by Republicans who are doing the same thing. (Presumably it's because they'd all get slammed for being "soft on terror," presumably by the same Republicans who've been making the big whoop-de-doo over the whole thing, so I guess I have to accept that it's just a big defensive play all-around.) But really, can wejust hammer them on the real issues... like say, the illegal wiretapping business? Oh, right...

  • "Senate panel blocks eavesdropping probe" I guess that's why we're stuck with this other bullshit.

  • And then there's the renewal of the Patriot act. There's an article at the Chicago Tribute on Russ Feingold's lone opposition; it requires registration there, but there appears to be another copy at the Mercury News.

  • The guy who, as chief counsel to the President, wrote up the rationalizations for allowing torture and who is now the head of the Justice Department recently spoke at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and defended the U.S. detention policy.

  • Despotism & Democracy: How do we rate on the scales of Respect, Power, Economic Distribution and Education?

  • ITMFA Of course, if we can't even get the wiretapping investigated...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bend over

Originally uploaded by tallasiandude.
This happens every few months... I get my electric bill, have a minor WTF moment wondering if maybe I left the oven on for the last month, dig out the previous year's bill and then have a major WTF moment.

I still remember when my total electric bill was around 20 bucks. Today: $91 and change.


Just for the record, I thought my bill from February 2005 was outrageous at $73 plus. Yet, compared to this year, I guess I should have been happy. I mean, my usage actually went down by 12% (486KWH -> 426KWH) and yet my bill went up by more than 25%. (Yes, I'm kind of a math guy, ok? Deal with it.) You go down to the services and it turns out that the transmission cost has increased by 126% and the generation charge went up by 90%.

During these moments, I can't help but remember a ballot initiative* from many years back where the energy companies wanted to be deregulated. In return, they promised to do something like keep prices down or provide some kind of rate discount for a specified number of years. I really can't believe it passed since the whole concept struck me as one of those schemes where you sucker someone into signing up for something based on an "introductory price" (Can you say six CD's for a penny? Free broadband internet for the first 6 months?) and then reaming them once they're stuck in the program. I mean, doesn't anyone notice that they never tell you what the regular pricing structure actually is? (Comcast seems to still be pushing this kind of bullshit although it looks like RCN has finally given up on the practice.)

Anyway, all I can say is: we are soooo screwed.

*Ok, did a little research: the ballot initiative in 1998 was intended to repeal the electric utility deregulation legislation passed the previous year -- item (w) contains the rate reduction guarantees, and apparently there was considerable effort made by the utilities to defeat the initiative. Go figure.