Archive for the ‘geekery’ Tag

On Net Neutrality

Comments are now open at the FCC on Docket 14-28 and 10-127 on net neutrality.

Here’s what I sent them.


I would like to first remind the Commission that the Internet is not a creation of the broadband carriers, but was created out of a collaboration between the US military, educational and research institutions, and some few early technology firms, and then given its modern face by the invention of the World Wide Web at CERN in Europe. To paraphrase a soundbite from the last election cycle, they didn’t build that.

Even so, broadband carriers are effectively claiming control over something that is not theirs, by deciding what they will carry. Their function is that of delivery of data, not of gatekeeping content.

The Internet only works when communications is free, fair, and unhampered. The reason it is a billion-dollar business is *because* of net neutrality, not in spite of it.

I for one remember connecting to the Internet before the development of flashy graphical clients and certainly before the coming of broadband internet service. I would not have my service be effectively reduced to that again in the name of private profiteering off of what must now be considered a public utility, and broadband providers must now be considered common carriers. My utility company isn’t permitted to degrade my electrical service or limit the amount of natural gas I may use if I switch providers from the main ones in the area; the same must apply to broadband carriers.

Furthermore, because of the interconnectedness that makes the Internet work, the actions of a broadband carrier go well beyond affecting only their clients. Messages are routed through many networks to get from one point to another; one carrier in between myself and someone I wish to communicate with can affect our communications, without either of us being a client of that carrier.

Lastly, there are a number of public initiatives that are put at risk by the loss of net neutrality. NASA’s Kepler project relies on citizen science — volunteers around the world — to be able to process the vast amount of data it has generated, and it has paid off in the thousands of new exoplanets discovered. There are hundreds of other citizen science projects out there, ranging from abstruse ones like longstanding number theory problems to very real-world ones on protein folding and cancer research. Few of these would survive if a carrier demanded higher rates for their data traffic; the appallingly low rate of scientific funding means almost all are running on a shoestring already.

The shadow cast by Comcast’s action is a long one, and the damage that privatizing the Internet is incalculable. The effects are beyond higher connectivity costs for users and content providers.

The Internet is no longer the plaything of nerds and technophiles; millions of people rely on it daily for far more than mere entertainment–it’s vital to our work and our lives now. Allowing broadband carriers to effectively privatize it will do nothing to enhance Internet service for anyone, and will degrade it for millions.

The FCC *must* stand in favor of net neutrality.


On Our Current Coinage

I have started a petition on the White House petitions site; please consider signing it. It’s not anything earth-shattering, but it is something dear to my numismatist’s heart:

In 1904, President Roosevelt sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Leslie Shaw, in which he described the then-current coins in circulation as being of “atrocious hideousness”.

Our current coinage is again of atrocious hideousness: modern designs are flat and lifeless rather than sculpted, with all the character of an arcade token. The Native American and Statehood/America the Beautiful issues do not really combat this trend.

We ask the president to direct the Treasury to redesign all American coinage, both circulating and bullion/collectible issues. We also ask for a return to classic portrayals of Liberty rather than the commemoration of historical figures, or that persons so commemorated be deceased for at least 100 years, to avoid partisanship in choosing the new designs.

I’m a longtime believer that with very few exceptions, our coins should be celebrating who we are and what we stand for, rather than former leaders. I grant freely that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are in a different category; that’s why I put in the ‘one century dead’ provision, so they could be retained if there was a will to.

Even just in our own lifetimes, coin designs have degraded badly. Look for a quarter from the mid-1970s or earlier, and compare it with one from 1998 or later. Our coins used to be sculpted; now they’re flat and featureless. Compare the Kennedy half dollar to the Walking Liberty half dollar — or even the Franklin half. Now, I’m a Kennedy fan, but let’s be fair, he got put on the coin out of national grief, not for his record of accomplishment.

I would love to see a return to the classic (and non-partisan) Liberty designs — the Seated, Standing and above-reference Walking Liberties are some of our most beautiful coinage, to say nothing of the St. Gauden’s $20 gold piece which is for my money (no pun intended) the single most exquisite coin ever minted. The current nickel, which looks more like Miss Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies than it does Thomas Jefferson, simply isn’t in the running — although the preceding “peekaboo” design from 2005 would have made a lovely successor to the old Felix Schlag nickel.

Happy anniversary, H2G2

It was 36 years ago today that a certain radio program(me) made its debut on BBC Radio 4.

Radio 4 is celebrating by rebroadcasting the original series, and re-releasing the (in)famous text game in a modern browser-friendly, illustrated way… with DNA’s original hints.

And if you’re in London and get very lucky, you should know that I can make myself available on the morning of March 29.

Something recently noticed

You can pretty smoothly sing the Mystery Science Theatre theme to I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miz.

Or maybe that should be Les MST now… :D

A Valentine from NASA

They want to capture a small asteroid and put it into lunar orbit so it can be studied at our leisure.

THAT is the sort of balls-out mission NASA hasn’t had in a very long time. They’re targeting a 20′-40′ asteroid, or a comparable sized chunk of a larger asteroid. That’s planetary system engineering. And it arguably moves us, for the first time, up a notch on the Kardashev scale — if not all the way to Type I, then at least Type Nought-Point-V or so.

And it gives the moon a moon of its own.

Looks like I made the right decision

I looked at Google Chrome when it first came out, during a period that I was unhappy with Mozilla for one thing or another (needless to say, aIEeee was never an option), and ended up never installing it because of a clause in the user agreement where Google retained the right to reach out over the net and turn off any plugins they chose, ostensibly for ‘security’ and ‘stability’ reasons. That was a book-slammer, so I never even began the install.

Looks like it was the right thing to do for even more reasons than I thought. Apparently there’s a bug in Chrome — one that they’ve known about since last year, have known how to fix since last October, and still haven’t updated the Chrome code with — that allows Chrome to access a microphone attached to your computer and listen in on… well, on whatever you might be chatting about within its range.

Now, there are always bugs. The only code that’s bug-free is very tiny code. Large programming projects — like, say, an internet browser — always have bugs in them, and all you can do is hope you’ve got the vast majority of them before going gold. Inevitably, something that no one even considered possible slips through.

That’s fine. That happens. You fix the bug, patch the software, and hope that was the last of them.

But Google has fixed the bug… and sat on it. Their explanation? They say they’re waiting for direction from the W3C on what to do next, and that the current iteration of Chrome is fine because it’s still “W3C compliant”.

Yeah, right. It also remains vulnerable to allowing what I can only describe as a pretty chilling invasion of personal privacy. We have — or we should have — realistic expectations of our online privacy, and we can take steps to protect ourselves, but this is not something that falls under that. If you haven’t started any voice-recognition software, you have a fair and reasonable expectation that your computer is not listening to your voice, or recording it, or transmitting it elsewhere.

Google evidently doesn’t care about that. One wonders how long they would have sat on this if someone else hadn’t blown the whistle on them.

It really is hardly worth asking, “Whatever happened to “Don’t be evil”?” anymore, is it? The only shocking thing left from their behavior is that they have the unmitigated gall to try to blame the World Wide Web consortium for their failure to patch their own software.

And for your searching needs, may I recommend Duck Duck Go instead?

Well, it evades the problem. Somehow.

I haven’t seen ‘The Name of the Doctor’ yet, so I don’t know exactly what mechanics Moff used to get around the 12 regenerations/13 Doctors limit he claims he’s adhering to. Especially since he’s now claiming Smith is the 13th Doctor, not the 11th or 12th, because Tennant regenerated twice — once from Tennant to himself, and then into Smith.

Which renumbers everything again — Hurt is the Ninth, Eccleston the Tenth, Tennant the Eleventh and Twelfth, Smith the Thirteenth, and Capaldi the… Fourteenth?

Which kinda flies in the face of Moff’s statements about the twelve regeneration/thirteen Doctor rule.

So clearly, he’s going to have to pull something out of his ass, whether it’s a new round of regenerations granted by the no-longer-destroyed Time Lords, or some kind of “magic” reset button, probably from the TARDIS itself.

If it’s the Time Lords, that suggests the new direction hinted at by the end of the 50th anniversary special, the Doctor questing for home, is going to be over with a lot faster than expected. I don’t like it, but it does simplify future story lines: if the Doctor is spending all his looking for lost Gallifrey, he’s not going to have a lot of time to spend hanging out on Earth, and it’s at least in line with established canon from ‘The Five Doctors’: we know they offered the Master a fresh round of regenerations, so it can be done.

If it’s a magic reset button jumping out of nowhere at the last second, I will be pissed off.

It’ll probably be a combination of the two, the Time Lords surfacing at the last minute in an intergalactic deus ex machina, and be both canonical and dissatisfying.

But, we’ll see. While I liked the anniversary and I’m willing to give Moff a chance again, I haven’t set the bar very high.

Three weeks, three theories

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is fast approaching, the question is, where does John Hurt fit into all this?

Hell if I know, but I have a couple guesses.

The first thing that came to my mind was that he’s the Valeyard, the ‘dark essence’ of the Doctor from between his 12th and 13th regenerations, but the more I thought about it, the less I liked that idea. While a ‘Dark Doctor’ is clearly the man you need if saving the universe requires certain unsavory acts, it still doesn’t mesh with the Valeyard’s behavior, and more importantly, with the fact that the Eleventh Doctor recognized the Hurt Doctor while the Sixth Doctor did not recognize the Valeyard.

Another one I’ve seen is that Hurt is an elderly Eighth Doctor, or some midway point between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors (I’ve seen him called ‘Doctor 8.5’ even). Besides the fact that that’s just slopping around to avoid a renumbering (to say nothing of avoiding Capaldi being the last regeneration), it simply doesn’t make any sense. While my opinion of Moff’s storycrafting ability has slipped considerably, I don’t think he’s so far gone as to do something that just plain lame. In any case, Paul McGann is still quite alive and quite capable of being the Eighth Doctor again (and I think he deserves the chance to get more screen time anyway), so there’s no reason to replace him with John Hurt anyway. It’s possible that Hurt represents the Ninth Doctor, that Eccleston was the tenth, Tennant the eleventh and Smith the twelfth, but that also suggests that Moff is up to ending the series once and for all (unless he’s up to something even weirder). Moff has confirmed that as far as he’s concerned, it’s twelve regenerations, thirteen Doctors, that’s it (although in the above link he suggests the count we use is off). So if Hurt is the Ninth Doctor, that makes Capaldi the Thirteenth Doctor and if Moff says there’s no more than thirteen, what does that suggest other than that he expects the whole thing to shut down at the end of the Capaldi era?

However, what is Moff suggesting in the link above, that some of the regenerations weren’t regenerations? That’s a bit much, to rewrite the entire classic era like that (especially when as far as we know, they haven’t been invited to the party this month). Now, the Doctor himself referred to the changeover from Hartnell to Troughton as a ‘rejuvenation’, but that’s mincing words and in any case happened while the whole backstory was still being developed. There’s another theory that the Troughton to Pertwee regeneration doesn’t count because it was forced by the Time Lords and didn’t occur naturally — effectively meaning that Pertwee was still the Second Doctor, but with a different face. Cue similar logic-chopping with the changeover from Baker to Davison via the Watcher, that somehow being prepared for it means it doesn’t count. Or maybe he means something really extreme, like any regeneration that wasn’t one of the three flashy plasma blasts we’ve had since 2005 weren’t real regenerations. Or that the Time War somehow reset everything.

I don’t know what he’s got in mind, and I’m going to be damned annoyed with him if he’s playing games with canon. Didn’t he used to be a classic Who fan himself?

Anyway, the one I’m going with is that John Hurt’s Doctor is the Doctor before he started calling himself The Doctor. The one that according to some old fan theories (that well pre-date your modern flashy effects Doctor, thank you very much) palled around on Gallifrey with The Master during and after their Academy days, back when they were friends and before they were enemies. The one that might well have even been a co-conspirator with The Master, and might even have been a ‘bad guy’ himself — later turned to the side of good maybe because he was horrified by what the Master was becoming… or by noticing for the first time what he himself had become.

Hurt is therefore the Time Lord that grew up to be the Doctor. If you will, The Zeroth “Doctor”… or just plain Thete. ;)

I mean, the Eleventh Doctor clearly remembered being him, so that (largely) rules out a future incarnation.

Personally, I’m inclined to think there were miscellaneous not-legal activities that led to a long period of incarceration, during which he aged into the apparently-elderly William Hartnell appearance (no regeneration, think of Hurt as a young Hartnell Doctor), and stole a TARDIS shortly after being released or paroled. I doubt an escape because that would require too much retcon to explain why in the Doctors’ later dealings with Gallifrey, no mention of any unfinished jail time is ever mentioned — if he served time, he clearly served all of it, or at least as much as his society demanded. Maybe he was released in a general amnesty of political prisoners during an unusually enlightened period in Gallifreyan history — and I would not at all be surprised to find the Doctor being a political prisoner.

On the other hand, and to quote Mystery Science Theatre 3000, “…repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax” :)

Post-con comedown, but gently.

I’ll never be too old for conventions, but I can see eventually becoming too old to recover from them gracefully. But not yet!

I have noticed that the people who came to OVFF with their parents twentysome years ago when I first started attending now look like their parents did twentysome years ago… oog. Well, I suppose I look like my dad did twenty years ago, so it’s only fair.

Anyway, I had one of the best jams ever Saturday night; Hope (whose last name has fallen out of my head, I am *so* sorry if you’re reading this!!) with her saxophones, and Peter Alway with his guitar, and someone whose name I didn’t catch because we had the lights down to simulate a dark jazz club who gave us some magnificent vocals, for probably about two hours, much of which got recorded and I can’t wait to hear it. Generally, if we approached any existing song it was nearly accidental; we were freestyling the whole time (except for a little while on Peter’s “Evil Waltz”). I need to see if I can get a recording of the Sunday jam, too — it was pretty blazing.

At least it’s nothing to panic about, but still…

So I was putting together a PDF I could load onto my reader for easy transport of all the filk I’ve written (yeah, all two and a half songs… it was more proof of principle than anything else), and I can NOT remember two lines from the first verse of “It’s Alive!” and I now discover that I never put it on here, and can’t find a copy on my computer.

I must be a real filker now, I’ve got Frank Hayes Disease.

EDIT: Okay, I got one of them back, but I’m still missing the second line of the first verse. Augh!