Archives : February 2003

2003 February 10

Mad Scientist Time

The other night at Mary Chung's, Marek said he'd heard that if you cut a grape almost in half -- slice through everything but the skin -- and nuke it in a microwave, it will explode. This sounded foolish to me.

Today, I found myself standing in the kitchen at work, and noticed there were some grapes on the counter, across from the microwave.

So I did what I had to do.

It turns out that they don't explode as such, but damned if the little bit of grape skin joining the two bits didn't spark and flare and char itself black. Very, very weird.

I'm not sure where the original discovery was made (such as it is), but a quick search of the web turns up several references to a page by Patrick Michaud and Marc G. Frank, written in best pompous high-school lab report style. Nobody seems to have ever seriously wondered what the hell is going on, or what cutting the grape in half has to do with anything. I may have to play with this some more.

2003 February 11

Gordon strove to be a nice pimp.

The Lyttle Lytton contest is what the Bulwer-Lytton Contest ought to be -- all the flavour, half the fat.

2003 February 18

The Fun-house Mirror of History

I just love observations like this. I don't know what the hell it might prove (and of course, historical analogies can be selected to prove any point at all), but the symmetry is certainly sweet.

In the Suez Crisis of 1956, it was "a strongly interventionist Britain and France, closely allied with Israel, [that launched] a pre-emptive strike on the Middle East's worst dictator, but [were] forced back by American refusal to tolerate the European recolonization of the region or Western favoritism for the Zionist enterprise. The mind boggles." (Bruce Rolston, in Flit.)

The Arab dictator in question was Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the attack was principally in response to Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal, though the French were also angry about Nasser's support for the Algerian independence movement. (Bartleby's)

2003 February 26

"Privacy Spills"

A fascinating, thoughtful, detailed analysis of the implications of e-mail on privacy: "Accidental Privacy Spills: Musings on Privacy, Democracy, and the Internet" -- go read. For one thing "privacy spill" is such an evocative term, I guarantee you'll be hearing more of it.

I waffle on the issue of privacy vs. openness. On the one hand, having a basically open society is a huge part of what has made us as prosperous and successful as we are. Science thrives on openness, and in many ways the corrupt and power-hungry are like vampires: they flee from the light. On the other hand, personal privacy is a big part of what lets people get away with living non-conformist lives. I'm fairly non-conformist myself, and I have friends who make me look vanilla. My life is full of subtly nuanced decisions that I'm sure many people out there would disapprove of at first glance, and in the kangaroo court of a media frenzy, who gets the benefit of more than a first glance? Privacy is what makes it possible to take chances on stuff that you know is innocent, but could look bad if taken out of context -- it's what lets you feel confident that anyone who learns of it will know enough about you to know the context.

Are we entering a world where privacy can no longer be expected? Between the Internet and proliferating surveillance cameras and the plummetting cost of storage, it seems like we may be.

2003 February 27

The Spawn of Fashan

The Spawn of Fashan: "The Eye of Argon" of role-playing games.

Nothing will better convey the exasperation of learning the character creation process in The Spawn of Fashan than to describe each agonizing step as it actually happened. If I had to endure this much pain, so do you. I opened the rules to Section III, Division B, "How to 'roll out' a character," and began slogging through the mud.

2003 February 28

Microsoft !@#$% Word

Sometimes my hostility toward Microsoft begins to fade, and I think, you know, XP doesn't really suck that badly, and maybe I'm too hard on them. And then I get forced to try to edit a document in Word (which you, too, will be compelled to do sometimes, because one of MS's chief tactics in locking in its monopoly is making sure that nothing but the most recent version of Word can read a Word document), and all the seething hatred boils back up to the surface.

Word 2002, with Random Layout
Random formatting changes when you delete neighbouring text. "Auto-correction" of stuff that I typed on purpose. Incomprehensible table layout. I used to be able to hold on to semi-consistent formatting by copying and editing paragraphs, but jebus, that doesn't even work any more.

But above all, what goddamn brain commander decided that highlighting a chunk of text and pressing "Backspace" should not actually delete anything any more? I want his head.