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December 2002 Archives

Istanbul

Tania and I took a three night trip to Istanbul over Christmas. We figured we'd go to a country where all the shops would be open on Christmas, and Turkey is 99% Muslim. :) Here's the story of our trip!

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Turkeytime

On Monday, I'm heading off to Istanbul (not Constantinople) for a few days. Turkey's sort of this weird buffer zone between the Middle East and the West. Or rather, from what I've read, it's basically like a Middle Eastern country that's extra friendly with the West. I'm curious as to what it'll be like. (The fact that it's Muslim is one of the reasons I'm going, actually, since in most European countries, everything will probably be closed on Christmas Day.)

Stories grow with us

I've always been rather afraid of death since I was a kid. Since I'm not religious, I wanted to come up with some sort of sciency way I could be immortal. Some time in middle school, I think, I came up with this fantasy where there's actually this ancient group of people with this nifty futuristic home located in a parallel universe. They had teleportation devices, see, and they, altruistic folks that they are, teleport our brains away at the last possible moment before we die... and teleport back a fake replacement. (This was back when I felt that we needed our physical brain intact to maintain our identity, and I no longer think this is true.) They would then toss our brains into these VR systems, and we all live our eternal afterlives out in this better-than-real VR world. A technological afterlife.

I didn't actually think this was true, of course. It was just a reassuring fantasy. But around late high school, I didn't find it so reassuring any more, and I decided that I needed to deal with death once and for all. (er.. not that way!) I figured the way I'd do this would be by thinking about what immortality would REALLY be like.. and decide that it probably wouldn't be that great, anyway! Sour grapes and all, I know. :P I was helped along by this nifty Babylon 5 character named "Lorien" who was a really really really old alien. At one point, when asked about his romantic life and friendships, he looks a bit sad and says, "Only the mortal can believe that love is eternal."

I came up with a story idea. In the future, people develop the medical technology to cure pretty much all illnesses. At that point, accidental death becomes a major concern. They've also medically eliminated old age. So these rich people buy out a planet and build really really reinforced bunkers that are super-safe. And they life in them. Travelling is dangerous, so they use a VR system to hang out. With so many ways to die eliminated, accidents in the home become a concern, so many of them just hook themselves up to a VR machine in a care center and live completely in the VR world.

My main character would come to live in this world, get married... and then, decades or maybe a hundred years later, she'd get supremely bored with her married life. It just gets too stale. She can't even stand life there in general any more. So she decides to take off for dangerous Earth. My key line here was to be an utterly serious, "Are you insane?! You could be hit by a meteor or something!"

More time passes, and I realize that I just don't know enough about married life to accurately portray the reasons for the disintegration of a marriage. So I figured I'd focus more on the problems with living in a VR world. But that just didn't feel personal and compelling enough to me, so I didn't make much progress on the story other than coming up with a name: "Shelterworld".

Recently, I've learned a bit more about the themes of relationships, false expectations, and starting new lives... so I'm going to focus on those aspects.. The original purpose of talking about mortality has kind of faded into the background, since I honestly don't think that much about death any more.

Anyway, I just found it interesting that the focus of this unwritten story has shifted around so much with my life. Part of what reminded me of all this is how Jesse recently asked me about this story I wrote a couple of years ago, and why I hadn't linked it up on my new site. I never edited it to my satisfaction, so I don't feel comfortable presenting it to everyone. On the flipside, some of the issues in that story are so tied to that point of my life that I just don't feel as compelled to work on the story any more. Alas. Well, I'm starting to make a more solid outline for Shelterworld lately. Stay tuned!

Remember Kids: Sharing is Caring!

By default, anything we create is protected by copyright. For people who want to voluntarily share their works, there hasn't been any organized way of providing that permission.

Enter the all new Creative Commons project. They've created several licenses to cover various types of permission-granting, and all you have to do now is link to one of their licenses. (Much like GPL/BSD licenses for software, but with more variety.) They have a fun little flash movie to explain why they did this. :)

It's organized by such folks as Lawrence Lessig (the lawyer who recently fought against copyright extensions all the way up to the Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft) and MIT Professor Hal Abelson (who's working to license MIT online coursework via Creative Commons).

They've also got a project going called the Founders' Copyright, where you voluntarily sign an agreement to let your work fall into the public domain after 14 years (as opposed to nearly a century). They've got major computer book publisher O'Reilly & Associates on board to release some of their books under this license.

Anyway, I think it's really cool. I think I'm going to release my comics to allow free duplication and creation of derivative works as long as it's non-commerical and I get a credit. (I've already set that up for this blog as you can see to your left. [Update Jan-07-2008: Now I publish photos on my flickr stream with CC "attribution" or "attribution/non-commercial" licenses, and people actually use them sometimes, which is neat. On the flipside, I see no reason why anyone would want to use my blog writings, really, so I've removed the CC license from this blog for now. I may still use it for comics, but I haven't really been drawing any comics anyway. :P]) Of course, it's not like people will be jamming my server to get at my comics anyway. :P In that vein, since it's popular works that will be more useful to the public, I think it's still important to try to change the law rather than just rely on voluntary releases.

Now then. In case you're actually interested in hearing why this is important, read on for my essay on why copyright terms matter.

Continue reading "Remember Kids: Sharing is Caring!" »

Google vs. Evil

There's a great article in Wired titled Google vs. Evil, on Google's attempts to stay ethical yet practical. So far, Google has been a great success story on this front, but the author of the article has a somewhat pessimistic view of the situation, predicting that Google may well have to compromise its ethics more and more in the long term.

Dream: The Clairvoyant

[The Clairvoyant] I had a dream the other night that contained an entire story! I thought it was ridiculously cool. So cool that I drew it as a comic, my first one in over a year! :) Behold the very first comic in my "Subjunctive Dreams" series: The Clairvoyant

New Search Features

Take a look at the search field to your left. (You may have to scroll down.) With the "Recent Comments" button, you can get a listing of all the entries that people have commented on recently, so you can easily keep track of discussions on the site.

The search page has more options than the field on the left. You can do case-sensitive search and search for regular expressions. You can even search the comments now! Click the "Advanced Search" button to see the options.

(Finally, I sometimes attach keywords to posts, so you might get results even when the word doesn't appear in the text.)

Scientists confirm: Modern art isn't crap!

So I was reading this entry on the plog, where Paul talks about how Pollock's paintings aren't as easy as they look. I then found an article (forget where) about how mathematicians demonstrated that Pollock's paintings actually have fractal structure, the kind of structure you find all over the place in nature. Not only that, but his later paintings were more complex in fractal structure than his earlier work. Here is one of his most famous paintings: Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952. Here is a Discover Magazine article on the findings. And here, thanks to Paul, is a more detailed article on the topic. Good stuff.

* * *

Fractal dimension

And now for a really big tangent. I also had Paul explain to me the concept of "fractal dimension", which I found ridiculously cool. Well, Paul first showed me this very mathy page about it, and I was just thoroughly lost and confused. He eventually managed to make me understand the concept, though, if not that page. :) You might just want to read this rather non-mathy explanation of fractal dimension, complete with pictures, but below is my attempt at an explanation of the math...

So take a normal 2-dimensional object, like a square or a triangle. If you double its size along each axis, how much more area does it have? It's 22 = 4 times as big. Now, if you take a cube, a sphere, or any other typical 3-dimensional object, and you double its size along each axis, it has 23 = 8 times as much volume. (If you double the length of a line segment, it will have 21 = 2 as much length.) In a sense, this is what we really mean when we talk about dimension.

Now take a Sierpinksi Triangle. (As you may recall, it is formed by taking an equilateral triangle, "cutting out" the upside-down triangle formed by connecting its midpoints, and then cutting out the middles of each of the 3 remaining sub-triangles, iterating an infinite number of times.) Here's the weird thing. If you double its size along each dimension, the area doesn't quite quadruple. Notice how the new object is basically 3 of the original ones placed together!* So for the Sierpinksi Triangle, the new area is 3 times the old one, which means that its dimension can be found with the equation 2d = 3 => d log 2 = log 3 => d = log 3 / log 2 = about 1.58. And there you go. Fractal dimensions. I hope that was reasonably understandable, though I'm not really confident that it was....

(*Aside: If the original were not a fractal, and were, say, a sierpinski triangle only up to a finite number of iterations, then each of the 3 sub-triangles in the new object would have one less iteration of little triangles removed than the original object, and so they would actually have a little more area than the original, and the 3 times bit doesn't apply. You can then use normal geometry to show that the new object indeed has 4 times as much area as the old one, as usual. It's the infinite iteration that makes the fractal exhibit different properties. As for real-world objects, including sea-shells, Mandelbrot Set images on computer screens, and Pollock paintings, they're obviously not actually infinitely complex, but if they exhibit the right pattern down to the point where the materials get in the way, we just consider them as good enough approximations and give them credit.)

Finally, that Discover magazine article links to this page, which has some nifty pictures, especially toward the end of using fractals to generate simulated trees.

ACLU membership has leapt 50K since 9-11

The number of "card-carrying members of the ACLU" has jumped from 280,000 to 330,000 since September 11. Lots of conservatives who used to despise the ACLU are turning to it now. First Dick Armey helps to defeat TIPS. Now Henry Hyde is praising the ACLU. It just goes to show how far Bush and Ashcroft are going.

This post wouldn't be complete without a link for you to join yourself, of course.

(One thing I should note is that, if you do join, you'll likely want to ask them not to send you any third party mail. They have this pretty reasonable policy where they forward lots of junkmail from other organizations, but where they don't actually give your address out to anyone. So I got tons of junkmail, but they stopped as soon as I asked them to.)

Carter accepts Nobel Peace Prize

Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his efforts during his Presidency on the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. (He missed out on being nominated at the time because of a technicality.) Anyway, here's a quote from his acceptance speech that I liked:

"War may sometimes be a necessary evil, but no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good."

Pocket: Picked

I got pick-pocketed last night at the Picadilly Circus Tube Station. One minute I had my wallet (in which I only carry cards, not money). Right after I bought my pass and went through the turnstiles (which swing open rather than turn, but I don't know what else to call them), I no longer had my wallet. I didn't even feel anyone bumping into me or anything. Nothing. I keep my wallet in my front pocket, but I was wearing baggy courds insted of my usual jeans...

I reported it to the station supervisor, who put me through to the police. The police were kind enough to give me numbers for cancelling my cards. I don't expect them to actually bother calling me back and using CCTV records or anything, though, since this happens dozens of times a day. :P I guess we're only secure from violent crimes, not from pick-pockets. I'll be sure to use my buttoned back pocket next time I wear my courds.

The most annoying part of this is that I had my CA driver's license in there, which I shouldn't have bothered to carry around anyway. You can drive for up to 12 months here with a foreign license, and I was thinking of doing a driving trip (not in London!) this Christmas, but so much for that idea. (I don't have faith in the DMV to get me any sort of replacement in this sort of timeframe.)

Bismuth is sick

Bismuth, my PowerBook, went in for an operation yesterday. Her headphone port wasn't working properly; the right channel would cut out a lot, which is rather annoying considering how often she usually sings to me. We had one last night of passion Sunday, and then they came to take her away.

My concubines, an Aiwa portable CD player and my computer at work, have to take her place for now, and sadly they're just not the same. I feel all alone in my flat now; much lonelier without her.

The doctors over at AppleCare say she may need a new motherboard, and that she's probably going to have to travel over to Germany to get her transplant. Good luck, sweet Bismuth! I miss you!

More on striking US citizens

Here's an addendum to my two previous posts on this topic. [1st post] [2nd post]

The Bush administration defends its killing of US citizens it believes are terrorists. Thing is, I accept that some due process has to be foregone in times of war, when people can present immediate large-scale threats. I accept that scary notion of "collateral damage". Unlike small groups of kidnappers or hijackers, these terrorists have resources which make it difficult if not impossible to catch them the normal way. Note how they killed a couple dozen Yemeni soldiers when they tried to apprehend the guy the normal way, which they did try first. So the gov't calls them "enemy combatants" and decides that killing them without trial is okay.

The real problem here is that there is no clear line between civilian crime and war. (I would accept collateral damage much less in the case of a bank robber or those Washington snipers, for instance.) This whole large scale terrorism thing, with terrorists dispersed all over the place without uniforms, is just so different from anything the world has had to deal with before, and our legal framework just can't deal with it. The gov't has to go either the "war" route or the "civilian crime" route, and neither is appropriate. What we need is to create a legal infrastructure for dealing with this new class of cases that are somewhere in between.

Analyzing the Great Firewall of China

There is a project at Harvard to empirically study Internet filtering in China and elsewhere. Here is a list of well-known sites that are blocked in China.

"The Great Firewall of China" blocks relatively few sexually explicit sites, only 13% of a list of top adult sites, whereas commercial filtering software and filtering in Saudi Arabia block over 80% of those sites.

Most of the testing the project did was on other sites. The study categorized blocked sites into the following: dissident/democracy sites, health (famines/AIDS/sex-ed), education (universities), news, government sites, Taiwan/Tibet, entertainment (including Taiwan MTV and dirty joke sites), and religion. Often, whole domains are blocked, like MIT and several other universities. This is something that annoyed me when Willa was in China, because she couldn't see my homepage. That made it personal. :P

All that is mostly to be expected but some blocks were a bit more odd, like the Deep Impact movie site, a Hong Kong ice rink management company, a Hong Kong motorcycle club, Red Lobster Seafood Restaurants (?!?!?!), a Canadian ski resort, a Sony website, and a jazz label...

The report also says that the filtering is very actively updated, especially in the case of news sites, which are frequently blocked and unblocked. Anyway, interesting stuff.

Update: Here is a hypothesis about the blocking of Red Lobster. The filter may be blocking sites that have "red" in the domain name.

Terrifica, Protector of Virtue

This article leaves me rather speechless.

About December 2002

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in December 2002. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2002 is the previous archive.

January 2003 is the next archive.

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