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Friday 30 November 2001, 22:51

I was in the computer lab, just finishing off the last of the coding for my assignment. There'd still be doc to do, and the way my luck was running they'd change the requirements again at the last minute anyway - Oh, didn't we mention that it had to be portable to the ZX-81? Gee, we thought that was obvious! - but I could deal with all that stuff in the morning. I heard a noise, and I looked up to see a man walking through the door. That was a little unusual. It was almost midnight and I was the only person in the place and he didn't look like a student anyway, nor a prof that I recognized. He was in his fifties, maybe. Medium height, thin, the most noticeable thing was his odd hairstyle - bald on top but long light brown hair in the back, drawn into a pony tail. He was wearing a black suit that looked heavily worn and a little too small for him, and several silvery metal rings high on the cartilege of each ear.

The blessed ones

Thursday 29 November 2001, 22:14

The blessed ones, damn them, I wish they'd leave me alone. They start in just when the moon is slipping into that eclipse position, just at the corners, the fringes. My peripheral vision is pretty good, I can detect movement in practically any direction, but I can only see clearly through my glasses. So when they start sneaking into my field of view I only see their vague forms, green and pink, right on the edge there, I can't see their faces at all.


Wednesday 28 November 2001, 22:07

It's not the same when you go back but you do too have to go back, that is the law, the closure of the set. Wherever you draw the line of your path, there'll be those places in the margin. You see the surfaces as you pass, you infer what's behind them, and some day before you leave you must stop and take a look, fix the images in your mind because it won't be the same and even the first time it isn't how you imagined, always a surprise as that is information, I told you before: it's not what you imagined even the first time, and the second time you don't see what you thought you remembered the first time.

Pink Terra

Tuesday 27 November 2001, 20:11

After Contact, all our petty global economic concerns became irrelevant. Large-scale hyperspace transport made imports cheap; almost anything that humans would want could be grown or manufactured more cheaply on some other planet. Like all new frontier worlds, Terra was forced to concentrate on its few unique local industries, the things we invented that no other planet had ever seen before.


Monday 26 November 2001, 22:31

Homeopathic medicine is based on the claim that the dose-response curve does a funky little dipsy doodle near zero, so that extremely small doses of various substances can produce therapeutic effects. For instance, there's a homeopathic remedy very popular in France which is made from the heart and liver of a wild duck, diluted by a factor of 10 to the 400th power. You're supposed to take it if you think you're coming down with the flu. The more you know about chemistry and suchlike, the more you're likely to pooh-pooh this idea; after all, there are a lot fewer than 1e400 atoms in the average-sized duck liver, and so the chances are extremely small that any of the original is even present in the medicine at all. You might as well be taking placebo pills, and the systematic double-blind studies (indicating that actually it does work better than placebo pills made without the duck heart even though the duck heart can't possibly be there at all for any practical purpose anyway because it's so diluted), anyway those studies have just gotta be some sort of fraud. It's psuedoscience, dammit! Don't confuse me with journal papers!

The cosmic brokers

Monday 26 November 2001, 00:12

Einstein taught us that space and time can be considered equivalent, and the Gilbreths taught us that time and money are similarly connected. Money, by definition, can be used to buy matter and energy, and those things can also be sold for money. These relationships form a sort of skeleton, technically what graph theorists call a "spanning tree", among the five elements of space, time, money, matter, and energy. The existence of a spanning tree, with the transitivity of the equivalence relation, implies a complete graph, with all vertices adjacent to each other. Each of of the Five can be exchanged for any other, and in a perfectly efficient economy, that would be the end of it all.

Where it goes

Saturday 24 November 2001, 22:10

Sometimes it gets into the nose, and you can hear it humming and rattling around up there, but that's not too bad, it comes out again pretty soon and you barely even remember.

Nothing new under Ra (100 words)

Friday 23 November 2001, 21:58


The soul that speaketh this chapter during the day of going forth shall dwell peacefully all its days within a grand tomb of noble stature.

Hail to thee Ra, and to thee, oh Horus and Thoth. Let this be the spell of the construction of my tomb, in just five days with minimal effort. It is known that this is perfectly legal in your sight. Let me place one stone upon each grave named on this list, and then upon adding mine own name to the

[remainder of text lost]


Thursday 22 November 2001, 21:31

Yeah, I subscribe to sci.crypt. It's pretty good. Right now they've got a thread going on marble versus concrete. Of course, I'm not really qualified to debate with these guys, they have some pretty high-powered scientists on both sides of the issue, but it sure is interesting to listen. I'm learning a lot and you never know when it'll come in handy. It's great sometimes in the club I'll just break into a conversation and throw in a comment like "Well, actually, it's seven feet, there needs to be some extra for settling and erosion" and they'll just be like awed because it sounds like I know my stuff. Girls in the palm of my hand, baby, palm of my hand. Now, of course, it isn't all moonshine and lilies. We get some vicious porn spammers, I have to warn you, some of those binaries you do not want to download. I just delete 'em. And there are the kooks and the people who like to flame newbies. Don't mention shovels, especially not in your first post. Still, you should subscribe. It's low traffic, and kinda fun.

In the Devil's drawing-room

Wednesday 21 November 2001, 21:01

It is a place of thick red carpets and elaborate plasterwork. The furniture shows centuries, if not millenia, of wear, but has stood up well on the whole both in physical and stylistic terms. You wouldn't be able to guess just when some damned hand first rubbed that varnish.


Wednesday 21 November 2001, 14:32

[Identifying information removed. I was either sender or receiver of this email; guess which.]

You wrote an article, I sent you some comments, you sent me a reply. I have deleted your reply because its tone indicated that you did not value my comments already made and weren't looking for further comments from me. I believe you are an expert writer and would not create that impression accidentally. Nonetheless I am sending you this note in case it was unintentional, because in a similar situation with the roles reversed I'd appreciate a "heads up". I do not ask nor expect a reply to this note.

Safety first

Tuesday 20 November 2001, 22:05

New research from Iowa State University indicates that nepetalactone, the active chemical in catnip, is 10 times more effective as a mosquito repellant than the current state of the art, a chemical called DEET:


Mosquito bites can be very dangerous. Between malaria, dengue, and West Nile fever, you just can't be too careful when you're travelling in Africa. So be sure you wear plenty of catnip oil every day during your lion safari.


Tuesday 20 November 2001, 00:10

To make best use of this posting, you should have a quantity of identical standard dice. Attempt to solve the questions for yourself before reading the answers. It is more fun to use real dice, but on the other hand, solving them in your head by visualizing the dice will almost certainly qualify you for membership in some pretentious organization.

Breaking fast with the code monks

Sunday 18 November 2001, 22:55

[thanks to Brother Headchalk for suggesting "nutella" as topic]

Breakfast was an adventure. I had to get up early to catch the bus back to Redmond; most of the compound's inhabitants were still asleep. Those guys like to get up late and hack all night. I wandered down into the communal kitchen, toyed with the idea of just chugging a couple of beers out of the "FAIB" cooler, and decided that it was still too early for that. Instead I looked in the fridge, finding some bread and an unlabelled jar of brown paste. I opened it and cautiously smelled it, and concluded that it was Nutella or some similar product. I thought I'd have some toast with some of the brown stuff.

Students rush in

Sunday 18 November 2001, 21:44

Behold, I am the peer review angel, wearing my double blindfold, with the sword of irony in my left hand and the trowel of constructive criticism in my right. At my sides are my companions, the spirits known as Strunk and as White, and on my shoulder the falcon Google. See, the falcon strikes down from the skies, his sharp eyes spotting your copied paragraphs no matter how well concealed. Look, the Spirits have catalogued your errors in their little book before you were even born. Quake in fear, oh plagiarists! Repent, oh illiterates! Seek ye spell checks, seek ye grammar analysers, and stray not into the swamps of cut'n'paste. For before ye pass the course, ye must pass me.

Is that two point six?

Sunday 18 November 2001, 03:05


Coffee house

Saturday 17 November 2001, 00:28

It is after two in the morning and you aren't in a state to make best use of the serious bizarre ideas you have written down on your note cards for today and you are in a state where you would forget that it's a bad idea to write in second person and you would even go so far as to use a breathless present tense and hey, why not go for the hat trick by making it a stream of consciousness piece, sort of.

The auditors

Thursday 15 November 2001, 20:59

Every night when you close your eyes and your brain stops working, the workers all file out punching their cards in the time clock and they walk out the main doors in your ears, a few slip out your nose, they all go home to their families and their late dinners and it's all quiet and dark inside your head all except at the very back where the night manager sits at his desk waiting for all the regular employees to go. When the last swirls and eddies of dust come to rest, when the photocopiers all go onto power saver, somewhere behind your nose a pin drops to the floor and bounces like in that long distance commercial, and the night manager hears it all the way back where his desk is, because the night manager has very good ears and can hear things like that.

Inner night

Wednesday 14 November 2001, 21:09

Transportation must always follow geography. Conventional water-boats travel over rivers, lakes, and oceans, and the cities that grow fat and prosperous on the strength of boats are those that are well-situated for their loading and unloading. Railways have their own logic of grades and directions, the open spaces and the convenient passes for the tracks, and the cities feel the benefit at intersections of major routes or where it is convenient to transfer goods to other modes. Air transportation has fewer constraints, but given that you will build an airport near some given city, you bet you're going to think hard about where to put it. You want to avoid (if I may make so bold as to mention it) having planes fall apart just after takeoff and drop pieces all over high-density population areas. On purpose or by accident hardly even matters to the people it lands on.

At the WCOC '01

Monday 12 November 2001, 22:58
[View source for Usenet headers]

Date: 13 Nov 2001 01:58:29 -0500

Summary: Intended to post this Nov 12, but beer and bad company intervened,
    and I spent the final hours of Monday watching Monty Python and smiling
    and nodding to much greater than the LD50 of other people's RPG

The World Counting Out Championships were held last week in Exeter, UK.
Opening ceremonies began Monday afternoon, with the national anthems of all
eight finalist countries, a selection of baton twirling and marching band
performances from local high schools, and so on.  Also included in the
ceremonies were speeches by the foreign ministers from Switzerland and
Canada, who (as the top-scoring nations not among the finalists) were
providing counters.  The ceremonies were followed by the traditional opening
count-out among the captains of the teams.  This would not directly count as
part of the tournament, but would determine the scheduling of matches for
Tuesday and Wednesday.


Sunday 11 November 2001, 20:39

Before history when people had to go somewhere they would walk. Nobody went anywhere often enough for anyone to consider the issue of regularly following the same routes or making the path easier; what trails existed were created by other animals who might from time to time often travel the same way. Humans might exploit those, but only in an opportunistic fashion, greedy by the computer scientist's definition of the word.

Four point scale

Saturday 10 November 2001, 20:57

4.0/4.0 BLUE
The final battle; the brass-stringed harp. We know that this chair was designed to spin rapidly - look, here are the remains of the treadmill that drove it. But the records don't explain whether it was used for recreation, torture, or both.

Occupational hazards

Friday 9 November 2001, 20:57

I guess every line of work has its risks. Too much time in the lab and those innocent pretty little droplets will whittle your brain down to a nub of harsh organometallic white noise. Climb one too many towers and even if you don't fall the RF will get to you. Keyboards and carpal tunnel, you get the idea. Sure, I'm being obscure and I don't even really know half the shit I talk about, but those are parts of the price for who I am.


Thursday 8 November 2001, 14:26

A friend is someone
who, when asked "Hold still, I want
to try something," will.

Thing In A Jar

Wednesday 7 November 2001, 17:52

[OCRed and hand-corrected, from a page found in a recycling bin in the East photocopier area, lower level, Davis Centre Library, University of Waterloo, at about 6pm on Wednesday 7 November 2001. It seemed to be a photocopied page (page 37) from a book. I searched the bins but couldn't find any other pages from the same book, nor was the book among those on the nearby table of books to be reshelved. If anyone can identify it, please let me know.]

Cantor vernacular petrify unfledged

Saturday 3 November 2001, 05:28

There are no meaningless words: for every sequence of sounds there exists an entry in the Great Dictionary. There are no wasted names. Although some unfortunates must walk unnamed eternally without a finite name, indeed, by the measure of infinity, all but a vanishingly small countable number of us, on the other side every possible name identifies a being. Though we may seek to drown significance in the psuedorandom noise floor, or to create fictional characters entirely disjoint from the world we know, it is a doomed procession into the infinite distance - for every word we speak implies the language that defined that word, and names the first person who spoke that language.

Projector's credit union

Friday 2 November 2001, 07:02

I went to open an account at the Projector's Credit Union. The PCU branch was tucked away behind the flashy modern CIBC branch, so that one would have to drive through the CIBC parking lot to get there. It was a small square building that looked like an old converted house, sitting at the edge of the parking lot among some scrubby blackberry bushes. I had chosen to deal with the Projector's Credit Union largely on the recommendation of my sister, who had told me that the tellers there were cute girls.


Thursday 1 November 2001, 12:04

This is a secured semi-anonymous connection. We know who you are, and can authenticate that. You don't know who we are specifically, but you can easily guess in general terms. Nobody else needs to know what's discussed on this connection, or that we ever had this conversation at all, unless one side chooses to reveal it.