Sep 28

Mighty aches from little ACORN’s fall

In all the foofaraw surrounding the ACORN scandals, there is a huge important consequence of them understood – but not spoken – by everyone who follows politics as a blood sport. This story describing conditions in Michigan and tallying up some recent ACORN convictions for electoral fraud is an indicator. And, on top of Obama’s plummet in the polls, the attention now being focused on ACORN has got to have any thinking Democratic strategist deeply worried about the 2010 midterms.

No, I’m not talking about the mere aura of scandal, the prospect that some of the smell coming off of ACORN might cling to the general run of Democratic politicians. That’s not going to happen, not while most of the mainstream media seems ever more intent on operating as an unpaid auxiliary for the Democratic National Committee. No stench will be allowed to adhere, not even if the stalwart partisans of the Fourth Estate have to lick it off with their own tongues. No, the real problem is this: ACORN was the linchpin of the Democratic electoral-fraud machine. Without it, the party’s position going into the next round of elections may be seriously weakened.

Continue reading

Aug 13

Dr. William Short’s “Viking Weapons and Combat”: A Review

I expected to enjoy Dr. William Short’s Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques (Westholme Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59416-076-9), and I was not disappointed. I am a historical fencer and martial artist who has spent many hours sparring with weapons very similar to those Dr. Short describes, and I have long had an active interest in the Viking era. I had previously read many of the primary saga sources (such as Njal’s Saga Egil’s Saga, and the Saga of Grettir the Strong) that Dr. Short mines for information on Viking weaponscraft, but I had not realized how informative they can be when the many descriptions of fights in them are set beside each other and correlated with the archeological evidence.

Continue reading

Jul 28

A Midsummer’s Light Posting

I’ve not been blogging much lately for two reasons. One: vacation. I went to sword camp (formally, “Polaris Summer Weapons Retreat”) again this year, had great time with friends, learned how to fight using a glaive (a form of bladed polearm). Two: heavy technical work. I’ve been designing and implementing a new protocol for GPSD; my next major post may be about some interesting issues that have come up during this process.

It-increases-my-paranoia news: Massive protests continue in Iran, some news about them leaking out through the news blockade, more reaching me through my NedaNet contacts. My Pennsylvania CCW arrived, so I now carry concealed legally – I had had plans to carry concealed illegally and make a Constitutional issue of it, but I’ve decided I don’t need to be in trouble with both the U.S. legal system and potential Iranian assassins at the same time.

I’m looking into upgrading my pistol competence level via IDPA tactical shooting; there’s a match at a gun club not far from here August 22nd and I’ll probably be at it. I did IPSC, which is similar, once back in 1998: you can read about it here. Then I got busy and famous and stuff, dangit.

Light blogging may continue for a while: World Boardgaming Championships is next week, and I’m playing a lot of on-line games in training for that; my goal is to at least make the finals in the Commands & Colors Ancients tournament.

Jun 21

A plea from Iran

I received an email that deeply moved me a few moments ago. I’m going to reproduce it here exactly, except that (as requested) I am omitting the name of the sender. Because I think I’m going to need a term of reference for him, I am substituting the name of a legendary Persian hero.

My name is [Rostam] , an open source fan and your blog regular commenter …

Regarding to security consideration, PLEASE KEEP MY IDENTITY SECRET !!

I wanted to inform you about what’s happening in Iran , but the the wildness circle of Iran’s religious and dictatorship regime is so that I can just invite you to check this two link in youtube :

http://www.youtube.com/results?&search_type=&search_query=neda+protest

http://www.youtube.com/results?&search_type=&search_query=iran+protest

Eric, I know that I will maybe face the deadly threats by sending this email. But, I do this because I do believe in freedom.

Inasmuch as, you are one of the most influent persons in one of the most talented community (Hackers) in the world, I humbly ask you write about Iran and what’s going on there.

Please tell the world that Persian people are fight for freedom . Our fight is “weapon less” against a full armored enemy . Our weapon is our great civilization , is our will of freedom and is our prior experience over the history.

PLEASE tell the world that there is no doubt at all that we will see freedom as you saw it after destroying Hitler’s nightmare …

Sincerely Yours , [Rostam]

Rostam, I will indeed blog about this. I begin by publishing your plea, which despite its somewhat broken English is probably as eloquent as anything I could write on the matter. You have my promise of secrecy. I will have more to say in coming days.

And, an interesting contrast with my last email from Iran

Jun 12

How to Type with a Foreign Accent

I spend a lot of time on IRC channels and discussion forums where many of the users are not native speakers of English. Recently one of these expressed surprise when I observed: “You type with a foreign accent. What is your birth language?” He knew, of course, about speaking English with an accent, but he hadn’t encountered before the possibility that the same cues could be observable in written English.

Herewith , some instructions on how to type with an accent. All the examples I will give are utterances I have observed in the wild.

Continue reading

Jun 01

Extreme punctuation pedantry

Most people don’t know that there are two different philosophical camps that differ about how to do correct punctuation in English. This has been on my mind lately because of some questions I have been asked by non-native speakers on the Battle for Wesnoth development list, where I am the resident English pedant.

The rules we’re taught in school are the syntactic ones; in these, punctuation is a part of the grammar of written English and the rules for where you put it are derived from grammatical phrase structure and pretty strict. Lynne Truss of Eats, Shoots & Leaves fame is an exponent of this school. But there is another…

Continue reading

May 25

Objective Evidence

This weekend, at Balticon (the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention) I got to play a bit with an infrared-sensing webcam. These turn out not to be very difficult to construct, because CCDs are sensitive well into the IR range. The normal filter blocks IR but passes visible light; by replacing it with fully exposed film stock, which is opaque to visible light but transparent to IR, you get infrared imaging.

Continue reading

May 17

Is Danish Dying?

Some years ago I did a speaking tour in Scandinavia that involved staying in Denmark for a couple of days. Denmark, like the other Scandinavian nations I’ve visited, is a tidy little country full of intelligent, civilized, and agreeable people. As long as you can get along with gray sub-arctic weather and gray, characterless food these are interesting places to be – well, at least for someone with my strong interest in history and archeology. Historical museums, here I come!

But while I was in Denmark I kept tripping over odd facts that pointed to a possibly disturbing conclusion: though the Danes don’t seem to notice it themselves, their native language appears to me to be dying. Here are some of the facts that disturbed me:

Continue reading

May 11

The Trek Movie: TOS rides again

I saw the new Star Trek movie last night, and it answers a question I wasn’t sure anyone would ever ask (or want to) – namely, could they find a young actor who could effectively clone William Shatner’s performance in TOS (The Original Series) as the alpha asshole of the future galaxy. The answer is yes.

Continue reading

Apr 24

How to get banned from my blog

It is quite difficult to get banned from commenting on my blog, but some – I think a grand total of about four out of a number of commenters well into the thousands over the last seven years – have managed it. With sufficient hard work and dedication, you too can join this select group.

Continue reading

Mar 18

Doug McIlroy makes my day

Yeah, that’d be the Doug McIlroy. Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie’s boss when they were inventing Unix, himself one of its early co-designers, and the inventor of the Unix pipe.

He was very helpful when I was doing The Art of Unix Programming in 2003. Hadn’t heard from him since then until he emailed me out of the blue today to say good things about the manual I wrote for GNU PIC. Good Web rendering here; googling may turn up other copies.

He said:

I just read your manual for gnu pic. It’s a great job.
I’ve found that almost invariably follow-on descriptions of
Unix are either (1) too verbose or (2) too incomplete. When I
saw the page count I instinctively assigned this document to
category 1. But I had to read it, for man pic on Linux is
category 2. Only after I had finished and revised my opinion
to “this is a real keeper” did I go back to the title page to
see who wrote it.

Praise from the master is praise indeed. I am a happy Eric today.

I haven’t felt quite like this since Donald Knuth emailed me a bug fix for INTERCAL…

Feb 12

Translation Errors

God Wants You Dead is an entertaining and subversive little book that reminded me of a well-known controversy in the translation of the Judeo-Christian Bible. Most educated people probably know that in Isaiah 7:14 it is prophesied that the Messiah will be born of an ‘almah’ of the House of David — and thereby hangs an ambiguity over which much ink and blood have been spilled.

Reading this, I was reminded of something most people don’t know — that a similar translation problem lurks even nearer the root of Christian theology…

Continue reading

Jan 09

My comment to the FCC on DRM

This comment is not confidential; I grant unconditional permission to republish it in full.

DRM is a disaster for everyone involved with it, because it cannot do what it claims but imposes large costs in the process of failing. The people who have sold DRM technologies to Big Media are frauds playing on the ignorance of media executives, and both the media companies and the consumer have suffered greatly and unnecessarily as a result.

DRM cannot do what it claims for at least three reasons. First, pirates readily bypass it by duplicating physical media. Second, DRM algorithms cannot “see” any data that the host device does not present to them; thus, they can always be spoofed by a computer emulating an environment in which the DRM algorithm thinks release is authorized. Third, for humans to view or hear the content it must at some point exit the digital realm of DRM to a screen and speakers; re-capturing the data stream at that point bypasses any possible protections.

DRM can make casual copying difficult, but cannot thwart any determined attack. Piracy operations operating on a scale sufficient to affect the revenue streams of media companies laugh at DRM. They know it is sucker bait, injuring ordinary consumers but impeding piracy not one bit.

In the process of failing, the DRM fraud imposes large costs. DRM makes consumer electronics substantially more expensive, failure-prone, and subject to interoperability failures than it would otherwise be. It makes media content less valuable to honest consumers by making that content difficult to back up, time-shift, or play on “unauthorized” devices. All too commonly, technical failures somewhere in a chain of DRM-equipped hardware lock consumers out of access to content they have paid for even in the manner the vendor originally intended to support.

But the worst effect of the DRM fraud is that it generates pressure to cripple general-purpose computers in an attempt to foil emulation attacks. As a society, we can live with silly restrictions on device-shifting the latest blockbuster movie, but we cannot tolerate (for example) attempts to prevent PCs from running software not certified in advance by a consortium of Big Media companies. Yet that – and even more draconian restrictions – is where the logic of the DRM fraud inexorably leads. Such measures have already been advocated under the misleading banner “trusted computing”, and half-attempts at them routinely injure today’s computer users.

I would not ask the FCC to ban DRM, even if that were within its remit. Markets will teach the media companies that DRM is folly, just as markets taught software companies that “copy protection” was a losing game back in the 1980s. What the federal government can and should do is decline to prop up the DRM fraud with laws or mandates.

Specifically, if the “broadcast flag” or any other similar measure is again proposed, the FCC should reject it. To the extent that FCC regulatory or administrative action can mitigate the damage and chilling effects caused by the DMCA’s so-called “anti-circumvention” provisions, that should be attempted. Most generally, the FCC should make policy with the understanding that when media companies claim that DRM is useful and effective, they are not only misleading the FCC but deluding themselves.

Dec 19

From Scythia to Camelot with Thud and Blunder

I am not sure when or where I first encountered it, but the theory that the Arthurian cycle of legends might be rooted in the mythology of Scythia and the Sarmathians instantly struck me as not only plausible but almost certainly correct. The Sarmatians (and the closely-related or identical tribe of Alans) introduced armored heavy cavalry using the shock charge with lance to Europe: the Sarmatian hypothesis would neatly explain several otherwise very peculiar features of the Arthurian material, including the fact that even very early versions insistently describe a style of war gear and knightly combat with slashing swords on horseback that would not become actually typical in Europe until the later Middle Ages.

Continue reading

Aug 04

On Enjoying a Fight – a Genetic Speculation

Sword Camp 2008 reminded me how much I enjoy fighting. I’m not speaking abstractly, here; by “fighting” I mean physical hand-to-hand combat.

Now, on one level, this revelation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows what I do for fun. I’ve trained to black belt level in tae kwon do, studied aikido and wing chun kung fu, fought battle-line in the SCA, and achieved considerable proficiency in Sicilian cut-and-thrust swordfighting. One doesn’t do all that unless there’s some pretty hefty primary reward in there.

But I’ve actually had quite an interior struggle with this. It used to bother me that I like fighting. I had internalized the idea that while combat may sometimes be an ethical necessity, enjoying it is wrong — or at least dubious.

So I half-hid my delight from myself behind a screen of words about seeking self-perfection and focus and meditation in motion. Those words were all true; I do value the quasi-mystical aspects of the fighting arts very much. But the visceral reality underneath them, for me, was the joy of battle.

In 2005 I finally came to understand why I enjoy fighting. And — I know this will sound corny — I’m much more at peace with myself now. I’m writing this explanation because I think I am not alone — I don’t think my confusion and struggle was unique. There may be lessons here for others as well as myself, and even an insight into evolutionary biology.

Continue reading

Jul 21

What D&D character am I?

Most what-kind-of-X-are-you quizzes are superficial jokes. I just found one that seems better constructed than the average, and as an old-time D&D fan I couldn’t resist it. Here’s the paste from my results, with a link:


I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (7th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-14
Dexterity-10
Constitution-16
Intelligence-15
Wisdom-14
Charisma-15

Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard’s strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)


The stats seem pretty accurate on the whole, though I wonder which answers made them underestimate my Intelligence. And I’ve never been about limiting the actions of the truly capable.

And here are my results from another interesting quiz auditing for Asperger’s Syndrome traits:

No surprise there, I already knew I wasn’t an Asperger’s Syndrome case; if anything, my neurological bent resembles subclinical Tourette’s Syndrome. But here I come out as a neurotypical with a balance of intellectual and physical talents, which seems about right.