September 2003 Archives

A Disappointment

I recently found an old gadget I bought a long time ago. I saw this little cookie cutter in a mail order catalog, and immediately I saw the potential for a sculpture project. This little gadget would be perfect for incising letters in clay or wet cement. It reminded me of a strange old photo I saw in an Art History lecture, it was taken around 1900, it showed a man pushing a big paint roller down a Paris sidewalk, printing the Cinzano logo right onto the pavement.

Cookie Gadget

The kit advertised 26 letters and 10 numbers, so obviously I had to buy two kits, since I might need double letters for some words. Fortunately the kits were cheap, only about $5. But you can imagine my disappointment when I opened the kits, and found this:

The Alphabet

The packaging is correct, it contains 26 letters. They just didn't include all 26 letters. Both kits were identical. I'm throwing the whole mess in the trash, it's totally useless.

The Original Version, For MeFi Readers

I'm putting up this trackback link for Metafilter readers that might want to see the original idea that this guy stole from me. I first did this well over a year ago.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I don't mind people stealing my idea half as much as I mind people not giving me credit for the invention. My only consolation is that they did a lousy job.

BlogTV: Deadly Accident

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BlogTV presents a tale of tragedy, a freak accident on a playground that reveals a design of death. FujiTV News brings us the details (3 min, English and Japanese subtitles).

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Children are gathering at the playground, but nobody is having fun. They lay offerings at the site of the tragedy that has claimed the life of their playmate. They pray for their lost friend, and leave flowers and other trinkets, the sort of thing a 7 year old child might blow their pocket change on, juice and candy and cheap toys. The site is now taped off so nobody can play on the deadly equipment that nobody ever suspected was dangerous, buranko, the playground swings.
Computer graphics shows us the events in a detailed simulation, we see that little Ryunosuke slipped forward as he pushed on the swings, it came back and hit him in the chest, crushing him between the metal carriage and the ground.
I looked up buranko since it sounded like an imported word, but it is derived from burabura, a mimetic word meaning "to dangle" or "to swing back and forth." We see a few different types of typical buranko in this video, thousands were built all across Japan. After this accident, the statistics are starting to add up. Obviously there is a design flaw, and a new design for the buranko is now available. The ingenious new circular design is intended to prevent children from being trapped under the carriage.
The camera team moves to a playground, and asks a young child what she thinks about the recent trend towards removing the swingsets, she replies with ya da yo ne which is such a flexible, idiomatic phrase that I'll just translate it as "it sucks!" The kids love to swing, and they especially love playing on this new swingset with the cameraman in front.
But let's get serious here. An engineer explains the virtues of the new circular design, and grovels underneath with his tape measure. He assures us that no child could get injured with this amount of ground clearance. In addition, they have produced a document explaining the correct usage of the swings. I don't know what sort of government bureaucrat thought up that idea, but a set of instructions for a swingset has got to be one of the most unread and useless documents you could ever produce.
But still, the playground mothers express their concerns about the safety of the new buranko. One mother says that overcrowded swingsets are especially risky, and of course the FujiTV cameras have encouraged the kids to overcrowd the new swings, as they show off for the camera. We hear the same young girl again yelling ya da! as some of the larger children push the buranko higher and higher.
BlogTV once again presents George W. Bush's annual 9/11 commemorative speech. As usual, I have removed the pesky words that are always getting in his way.

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The Day I Have Been Waiting For

This is the day that George W. Bush became "the unpopular President George W. Bush." See for yourself. Actually, I mostly put this post up because skippy the bush kangaroo accidentally linked to me instead of the Pollkatz page. So go to Professor Pollkatz's Site and see it for yourself.

Microsoft is Pure Evil

I was astonished at an article I found today entitled "Microsoft: Hated Because it is Misunderstood." Since this article is likely to disappear from its current location, I have preserved it in a .pdf file and am providing it for download. This article is most astonishing to me because people, even so-called computer experts, actually believe this is the way computers are supposed to work. Contrary to Mr. Expert's assertion, people hate Microsoft because they understand it all too well; it is pure evil.

Metropolis still

Microsoft's First Customer

I will skip over the author's astonishing assertion that people hate Microsoft because they don't give away enough swag, and his recycling of the old theme, "nobody ever got fired for recommending IBM Microsoft." The author then launches his FUD campaign by asserting that products like Unix are just as insecure as Microsoft Windows, citing the example that SCO was taken offline by a denial-of-service attack. This "expert" does not seem to understand that the only way to take down an unbreakable OS is by a denial-of-service attack. It's like finding you can't break into someone's house, so instead, you cut the electric wires and water pipes into the house for revenge.
But my real beef with this article is the list of "expert" recommendations on how to keep your Microsoft computer troublefree and eliminate threats from viruses. The author asserts that "I'm on current Microsoft products, and I hardly ever crash." I'm on current MacOS X products, and I never crash. Never ever. I reboot my machine once every few months, when I install system updates. Let us examine his recommendations in detail, and contrast it with a non-evil OS.
• Limit the number of applications on your desktop.
I ran System Profiler and I counted 550 different applications on my machine, not including Unix apps I installed with Fink, which must number in the hundreds. There must be something inherently wrong with Microsoft Windows if it cannot run properly with multiple apps installed, even inactive apps loaded on a disk drive. This is a fundamental difference between Apple and Microsoft. Apple believes that all applications should integrate seamlessly with each other; Microsoft believes that you only need one application to do your work, Microsoft Office, integrated applications are a waste of time. You must do your work the way Microsoft says you should, not the way you want to do it. Microsoft has forgotten that machines were designed to serve mankind; mankind was not intended to be enslaved to machines and do things the way machines want them to be done.
• Deploy new operating systems on new hardware.
The server that provided this web page to you is a PowerMac G3/400, first shipped in January 1999, it's almost 5 years old. It is running the latest version of MacOS X. I also tried running the latest version of MacOS X Server on it, performance was excellent even though it ran tons of services I didn't need. But a 5 year old Wintel box is a doorstop. Microsoft deliberately makes their newest software bloated and slow, in order to force you to buy new hardware just to get the same level of performance you used to enjoy. In contrast, each new release of MacOS X has increased performance, even on older hardware. This is the ultimate source of pure evil within Microsoft, each operating system update is designed to make Bill Gates and his cronies rich, not to assist customers in getting their work done more quickly, cheaply and effectively.
• Keep software up to date (including your firewalls).
Much of the current round of viruses and worms on Windows was propagated by customers who were falsely informed by Microsoft Critical Updates that their OS was completely up to date with the latest security patches. Yesterday, Microsoft announced 5 new security patches. Keeping your Windows system up to date could become a full-time job.
MacOS X has a built-in firewall, but I don't bother to use it because MacOS X doesn't open hundreds of network ports that allow hackers to enter your machine, they are closed by default. MacOS X doesn't run inherently dangerous protocols like ActiveX or RPC that allow crackers to easily exploit an opened port.
• Do regular security audits (including trivial password checks).
• Consider smart cards for verified access.
These recommendations are only suitable for companies with a full-time IT staff, it would be difficult, if not impossible for an average home computer user to implement such security measures. Microsoft's "expert" solution requires expensive user-level practices. Wouldn't it be better to fix the inherent security problems in the OS, rather than put the burden on the user? Even if you hire an IT consultant to implement these password security measures, it is unlikely to increase security. Cracked passwords are not the primary source of Windows insecurity.
Long ago, I formulated a new Murphy's Law, I call it The Expert Law, "whenever you hire a computer expert, you suddenly get new problems only a computer expert can solve." Robert Cringely calls this problem the IT Department Full Employment Act. Microsoft depends on "experts" to recommend its software, the endless Windows bugs in the software they set up guarantees these "experts" a lucrative income.
I am reminded of an incident from many years ago in the early days of IBM PC when I worked for ComputerLand. One customer had continual problems with his MSDOS-based software, one of the salesmen went onsite once a week to repair his software. One week the salesman was out sick, and the customer called up with a frantic request for help, his computer was broken again. I went onsite, and was surprised to see the customer location, one of the most expensive mansions in Beverly Hills. I investigated the problem, and discovered that a simple modification to the CONFIG.SYS file was necessary for a permanent fix. Furthermore, I found that the salesman had applied an inadequate modification that would die about once a week, requiring reinstallation. When the salesman returned to work the following week, he screamed at me, "how dare you fix my customer's computer! I was making $250 a week off him! You killed the goose that laid the golden egg!" This was the very day I formulated The Expert Law.
• Don't copy entire software images from old PCs to new ones; leave that to hardware OEMs, who have testing and procedures to make sure the imaging is done right.
I am baffled by this assertion. I can only attribute it to the notorious "Windows rot." Many people think they must reformat and reinstall Windows every few months to correct subtle system errors. I know several people who have bought new Wintel computers just to avoid a reformat/reinstall cycle. But MacOS X users have utilities like Carbon Copy Cloner that can simply and effectively copy system images from machine to machine. MacOS X doesn't require customized installations and drivers for each different machine, I know many university computer labs that can remotely install the same cloned MacOS on any of their diverse machines with just a few clicks. This is another fundamental difference between Mac and Wintel, Macs are a seamlessly unified hardware/software solution, Windows must be customized for each hardware configuration.
• Don't upgrade memory on existing systems; even the slightest mismatch between memory chips can lead to instabiity.
This is the most astonishing of all these "expert" recommendations, I haven't heard anything like this since Bill Gates said 64k of RAM should be enough for anyone. Wintel systems continually require memory upgrades to keep pace with the latest bloatware, if you cannot upgrade memory then you obviously must buy a new CPU. This is how the minds of Windows "experts" work, instead of buying a new $25 memory stick, you need a new $2500 machine plus a new $25 memory stick. Of course you must install the proper RAM for your hardware, but if users cannot upgrade their memory without introducing instability, there is something fundamentally wrong with your hardware platform. I've used mixed memory brands in all my Mac machines. Using mismatched RAM (i.e. same speed but different CAS Latency) on a Mac will merely cause a slight performance reduction, it will not cause instability.
Oh, and you may want to avoid products from vendors who taunt hackers (the word "bulletproof" comes to mind).
The words "Trustworthy Computing" come to mind. Over a year ago, Microsoft announced it was suspending all development of new features for 30 days to put all their efforts towards a plugging security holes, they called it the Trustworthy Computing Initiative. 60 days later, the initiative was suspended, but obviously the security problems are worse than ever. And somehow Microsoft has morphed their usage of the term Trustworthy Computing to mean .NET, a digital rights management system. DRM is a misnomer, it is really a system of mistrust. Untrusted users cannot access DRM content without the explicit granting of permission, under the control of Microsoft .NET servers. The only "trustworthy" computers will be Microsoft systems. Yet those same Microsoft computers are almost completely open to any cracker that wants to access your files. Even Microsoft's primary .NET servers have leaked confidential customer information. Anyone who runs applications requiring a high level of security would be insane to use Microsoft applications. Recently a security analyst told me that many IT companies are insuring themselves against computer intrusion, they consider it an inevitable occurence on any corporate computer network with Microsoft computers. It is cheaper to pay exorbitant insurance rates and pay millions of dollars in damages than to spend millions to secure their systems. Is this how Trustworthy Computing is supposed to work?
I'm not posting this essay just to rant against Microsoft and their corrupt practices. I'm trying to point out that Microsoft "experts" are living on a completely different plane of existence. If you stay in a smelly outhouse long enough, you won't notice the stink anymore, but only a sick mind like our "expert" would try to convince people that the stench is actually sweet perfume. This is not how it should be. But this is the way it will always be, unless people stop giving their money to a company that makes such obviously inferior, insecure products. Unfortunately, with the current Windows Monopoly, users feel they have no choice but to buy Windows. It is the job of every responsible computer professional to inform users that there viable alternatives to Microsoft.

Please stay tuned for part 2 of this essay, entitled "Microsoft is Still Pure Evil," where I will explain how Microsoft continues to violate the terms of the antitrust judgement, and is deliberately blocking Mac users from accessing cross-platform web content that could easily be accessible if Microsoft wasn't actively trying to prevent it.

Purple Postage

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I had to buy some stamps at the local US Post Office branch, but I'm sick and tired of flag stamps. I asked the clerk for something neutral and without flags. This has been a perilous request in times past, I recall reading one article about how a publisher of a pro-Palestinian newsletter was interrogated by the Police merely for asking about stamps without US flags. But the clerk knew exactly what I wanted, something that symbolizes the sacrifices people were forced to make under that flag.

Purple Heart Stamp

Fear of Electricity

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I live in fear of electricity. This is rather an odd thing for an electronics guy like me. I won't touch any circuit over 24 volts, no matter if it is powered off. This is not some irrational fear, it is a fear born of extensive experience being electrocuted.
I still vividly remember my first experience with electrocution, I must have been about ten years old. I attended an ancient junior high school with an amazing collection of antique scientific apparatus. Every day after school, the science teacher set up the next day's experiments for the senior class, I discovered that I could sneak into the lab after he left and fool around with the equipment, and nobody ever knew I was there. One day I came in and a Wimshurst Generator was set up. Wimshurst generators are a demonic device designed to store static electricity in primitive capacitors. You crank on the handle, the discs spin and store the electricity in Leyden Jars. You can set the electrodes to repeatedly discharge little lightning bolts, if you put them close together they zap frequently, if you set them far apart they store up a larger charge and zap less frequently. Of course I had to put the electrodes as far apart as possible and see how big a charge I could store, and how big a lightning bolt I could create. Of course, not being scheduled to take this science class for another 2 years, I did not know the safety precautions. If you try a stunt like this, you're supposed to push the electrodes together using a nonconductive wood or rubber rod. I did exactly what you're never supposed to do, I used both hands to move the electrodes together simultaneously. I bridged the circuit with my hands and body, the last thing I remember was seeing a lightning bolt jump towards my fingers. I woke up on the floor several feet away from where I was standing, it was dark and I must have been unconscious for several hours. I did some calculations and I figure I must have been hit with at least 45,000 volts. Fortunately it was low amperage, or I would be dead. Two years later, when the device was demonstrated in class, I learned I had violated the "one hand rule," if you work with high voltage circuits, you should keep one hand in your pocket, to prevent yourself from bridging the circuit with both hands, just as I had done.
My science teacher was an eccentric old guy with white hair and moustache, he was the spitting image of Albert Einstein. He taught me more about science than anyone else, but not through the classroom, he gave me all his old scientific apparatus catalogs. Many of the experiments were considered obsolete because they used hazardous or illegal chemicals, like the lysergic acid I found in the storeroom. I could probably demonstrate hundreds of dangerous experiments, I'll do about any harebrained chemical experiment, but I just won't touch electricity, it's too dangerous.

BlogTV: Art Stunt 2.0b Completed

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My painting is finished, and this experiment in blogpainting is completed. I am now presenting all the painting sessions in one continuous animation, so you can see days of painting compressed into one minute.

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It surprises me to see my own work develop over time, I get a chance to see things I am normally not aware of. Painters get to bury their own mistakes under a thin layer of paint, and sometimes what may seem to be a mistake may lead the way to new ideas. Now I get to see the development of those ideas over time.

art stunt 2.0b final artwork

Here is a higher resolution image of the final work. Unfortunately, no photograph can capture the richness of the blacks, the subtle transparency of some layers, the changes in matte and glossy surfaces, and the overall detail of the image. These are key aspects of my work.
One of my favorite quotations about drawing (which equally applies to painting) says, "a drawing is a continuous record of thousands of decisions by the artist." This is what art historians call "autobiographical painting." It has nothing to do with the biography of the artist, it means the painting is its own biography, it tells the story of its own creation. I found that statement on a postcard from an exhibition, I kept it on my wall for many years. When I returned to art school, I was pleased to discover this artist, whose statement and artworks I admired so much, was teaching at my art school. I decided to take her drawing classes, and one day during a critique, I quoted her statement back to her. I was astonished at her response, "I never said that!"