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[Comments] (1) Biting The Hand That Feeds: My latest contribution to the LazyWeb: The Syndication Automat! I suck websites into NewsBruiser weblogs and show you the RSS feeds that result. Eventually I'm sure I'll scrape ConGlomGo's site and anger the corporate gods, but for now I'm sticking to getting information out of the government, Project Gutenberg, and other well-meaning mastodons. Hit the wiki page if there's a feed you want and you think I might want it too. Life is too short for me to mantain a bunch of scraped feeds I'm not actually interested in.

This was the main reason I wrote Beautiful Soup, so it's been in my head a while. I've been building it up in pilfered snatches of time and it's good enough to release now. It's also the first project created under the aegis of the new Center for High-Energy NewsBruiser, the name I like so much I'm going to use it for my other NewsBruiser-as-web-platform projects.

Give it a try if anything there interests you. I'm especially proud of the text excerpts in the Gutenberg feeds, and the clickable maps in the piracy report.

[Comments] (1) : Guido Van Rossum: Vengeance

[Comments] (7) Opposition Research: One of the things about political campaigns in this country is that everything you buy or use has to be made by an American company unless there's no alternative. This is not just flags and bunting and big Uncle Sam hats and the other paraphernelia of patriotism. It's everything. There's no law about this; you just do it. Because if you don't do it, the fear is, your opponents will use your insufficient patriotism against you as part of their "opposition research".

I always pictured opposition research as kind of an amoral game. You scour all available documents for scraps of your opponent's impropriety (actual or seeming). When you find something, you put on your Concerned Citizen face and release it to the media or make "Shouldn't this be investigated?" inquiries to the appropriate authorities. The goal is to get the media to bite, to get them to Discover An Issue and then try to finesse it into a snowball effect.

It's sad and depressing work, but all campaigns do it. Everyone's hoping for a Whitewater-scale jackpot, something where their opponent will look up in surprise and say "You sank my battleship!" and drop out on the spot. But the more common result is a constant stream of fake scandals and fiascoes that nobody remembers three days later, to match the equally forgettable stream of positive political theater coming out of your own camp.

I'm not talking about negative ads. This stuff is an order of magnitude too flimsy to use in a campaign ad. You'd get an ad like "Senator Bedfellow says he's for American jobs. But this one time, he ate a Toblerone! What's next, Senator--the killing of adorable kittens?"

You can't retroactively change what your candidate said twelve years ago in Rat's Ass, Missouri (though that's a good idea for a time travel story). On the other hand, it's easy to avoid this one particular type of embarrassment by simply treating patriotism as a sort of brand loyalty. But why put so much effort into avoiding such a flimsy fake outrage?

Well, this tiny subgenre of opposition research has a well-defined beginning, according to the campaign worker lore I am now intermittently versed in. It dates back to the 1992 presidential primaries, when Pat Buchanan suffered a fiasco because his campaign car was a Mercedes. A Mercedes! The champion of protectionism using a foreign car, ripping the bread right out of little Johnny Crankshaft's mouth and sending it overseas to the dour offspring of some unsmiling Hun! Fetch the smelling salts! Fiasco!

You can see (assuming this apocryphal tale is where it began) that it didn't start because some random politician had a Nokia watch. It was Pat Buchanan, and it was a car, the very symbol of the decline of American manufacturing. But now everyone is paranoid about it, because it's something they have control over.

Apparently this fiasco--a fake fiasco identical to the fake fiascoes that beseige every campaign every day, one remembered now only by campaign workers--was like the 9/11 of political campaigning, the moment everyone woke up and said "Holy crap! We must henceforth engage in ELABORATE, SUPERFICIAL RITUALS so that this will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!" Except since the fiascoes are themselves caused by the elaborate, superficial ritual of opposition research (and not by eg. a real enemy who wants to actually kill you), the counter-ritual is actually effective. As far as I know (which is not far at all) there have been no foreign-product-use-based attacks since the Buchanan fiasco. But if you ask me, the real reason is that other candidates are not Pat Buchanan, and these attacks would be less effective on them.

Here are the examples of this Brand America type thinking on the Clark campaign that I can remember. Because I was not privy to purchasing decisions (or indeed any other kind of decision) I'm guessing there were many more decisions made on this scale. I do have two that were kind of weird though.

I'm not sure how we justified using Linux for everything. Maybe because everyone else was also using it, and because creating a fiasco around it would require explaining what an operating system was. I think it just doesn't apply to software; only to things that can have incriminating pictures taken of them.

Anyway, the first and less viable of the two politics-related business opportunities I'm going to tell you about is the one where you buy cheap the sort of equipment a campaign needs, change the logos, and resell it as genuine American Brand Tech. Yeah, it's a pathetic sham, but having to explain why it's a pathetic sham makes the issue too complicated for your opponent to use it against you. Complexity: make it work for you in politics!

Sure, Do It The Easy Way: I remember in some class in college (the first one of the three I took where they teach you Lisp) I had a Lisp problem where I had to figure out how to pass in two numbers to a function of one argument.

Well, I thought, I'll encode the numbers x,y as a product of powers of primes 2x*3y, just like you would to encode a formula into Gödel numbering. Then I'll have one number that, by the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic, uniquely represents some list of numbers. On the other side I'll "just" decode the list from that number.

Then I figured out that the real answer was to put the numbers in a list and pass in the list.

[Comments] (2) : A reliable source informs me that LinuxWorld is in town this week. Is anyone I know in town and interested in hanging out? Do people still go to LinuxWorld nowadays?

[Comments] (4) Yesterday: Date with Sumana along Valencia yesterday evening. Bookstores: bought used Iain Pears, which so far reads like a less clever Quicksilver. Bombay Creamery: ginger ice cream is good, saffron pistachio ice cream is better. Pirate store: fun! Secret code: bring almonds to the girl behind the counter; she loves almonds. Addams Family-esque garden supply/taxidermy store next to the pirate store, and from which the pirate store seems to have acquired some of their merchandise: not as fun, but okay. They sold largeish test tubes, which I would turn into a spice rack if I wanted a cool-looking spice rack that was hard to use. BART back home: comfortable.

: Google Memewatch has gone too far!

[Comments] (1) : I've been meaning to post about 3-D printing and custom-made artifacts, and my mother beat me to it!

[Comments] (1) Lessons in Countersecurity: From Slate:

To access the database, a group of the remaining employees gathered together, and in what must have been an unbearably wrenching session, recalled everything they knew about their colleagues: the names of their children; where they went on holidays; what foods they liked; even their personal idiosyncrasies. And they managed to guess the passwords.

If you choose a good password, the terrorists have won!

Virtue Is Its Own Reward #4: Find happiness and win! (Seen on a candy bar wrapper by Sumana.)

Just One Guitar: Or is it?

[Comments] (1) Games You Already Have Roundup: This morning I was browsing through dselect looking for some games to play and maybe review for a Roundup. While I was there I decided to remove the KDE and Gnome games that come with every Linux system I've installed for the past four years. Then I thought: wait. I spend countless hours every decade searching for games to review, and I'm about to remove a bunch of games without even considering them for review--without even ever having played some of them. What's the deal?

Well, the deal is that most of those games are clones of games I've been playing off and on for the past fifteen years. They don't have that much play left in them. Even for the ones I like, there's usually some DOS version that is the focal point of my nostalgia, and the new GUI versions don't measure up.

Because of my general policy regarding saying things when I can't say anything nice, I had never even thought about reviewing them. But surely a review, even a cursory one, is better than unthinking deletion. So here is the first in a series of Game Roundups that focuses on games that are probably already installed on your machine. For this reason, I'm not giving links to most of these. Here we go, with the "Games > Arcade" section of your StartTM-like menu.

Humpback Whales: If you get a chance, don't miss this Nature episode about humpback whales. I thought humpbacks went around never really opening their mouths, but that's possibly the most wrong I've ever been about anything. It is amazing.

[Comments] (1) : Just when I thought Spamusement couldn't get any better, in come the pterodactyls.

[Comments] (2) I Have Arrived: My picture is on Fafblog.

[Comments] (2) Games You Already Have Roundup II: The Wrath Of Board Games:

Greetings, already havers of the following games. Today we look at computer versions of games usually played on boards. "Board Games", they are called. Man, it's hard to fill up a whole introductory paragraph. Did you ever notice how arbitrary the "board game" term is when games are categorized in a Linux installation? The category includes solitaire Mahjongg, which is not a board game and uses pieces from a board game that has no proper board. It includes Yahtzee, which is put out by a board game company but is played entirely with dice. Yet it does not, and this is the real travesty, it does not include my groundbreaking multiplayer mudfest "Bran's Brother Has Flipped!: The Home Game". Where's the justice? Not in this life, my friends.

That's why I'm imposing a strict rule on this episode of Games You Already Have Roundup. No matter what the menu classification says, if the game does not feature competition, ie. you versus some human or AI opponent, it is not a board game. It will not be featured in this episode, but rather in the next episode, Games You Already Have Roundup III: The Search For Puzzle Games. Hopefully the people who write Debian post-install scripts for these games will take this as the stinging rebuke it undoubtedly is, and will get their act together in time to avert game-categorization catastrophe on a grand scale.

Don't thank me; I'm only doing this so I can put off playing those awful marble games. And now, with further ado, the games.

: Neat (to me) addition to the Automat coming once I get my act together and finish it/verify that it's slurping up new stuff.

[Comments] (1) Google Memewatch: Off!

[Comments] (6) Games You Already Have Roundup III: The Search For Puzzle Games: Tonight we have puzzle games, both those correctly categorized and the refugees from yesterday. This elusive category contains some of my favorite games and some of my least favorite. And now, the games. What inspiration will the challenger bring?

Bonus: I should have reviewed these yesterday, but they were classified as puzzle games even though by the standards set out yesterday they're board games, so I missed them.

[Comments] (3) Fiddlesticks!: I have the darnedest luck with the websites I scrape for the Automat. They either change their website formats while I'm working on them or they stop updating before I can make sure the automatic import works. Case in point: the Catalog of Government Publications ("Pueblo, Colorado stuff", says Kevin), which has been averaging 25-30 new online documents a day but which only had one today. Hope it picks back up soon; I've actually found several very interesting documents in this stream (examples later, when I don't have to go to sleep).

What are they doing, anyway? About two-thirds of the documents they put in the database are not online, and lack even a reliable bibliography link, so I haven't been able to put them in the RSS feed yet. Are there 75 and only 75 new documents published by the government every day? I have no idea whether or not that number even sounds right.

Supposedly the GPO is required to keep a master index of everything the government publishes, but is that really all of it? They're still releasing documents from 2000 and 1994. That implies that there's a big delay in getting some information from the government agency to the GPO. It's a mystery. I am driven by the cool idea of having an RSS feed listing every document the government publishes, but even if this feed had all the not-online ones I can't shake the feeling it's only scratching the surface. Does anyone know?

Games You Already Have Roundup IV: The Voyage Card Games: I was apprehensive about this entire class of game because to my mind the category-killer of card games is pysol, the Python framework that has swallowed hundreds of solitaire games. But there weren't a whole lot of them, so out of a sense of duty I went through them, and now I'm glad I did because they're not what I expected. So here are the reviews I wrote as I shelled pistachios for Pesto Pistachio (I should have bought them shelled; this I realize now).

So, that's all the X games that come with your standard Linux install nowadays. Stay tuned for Games You Already Have Roundup V: The Final Toys.

[Comments] (6) It's Around This Point That They Should Be Calling Me Mad: There are cameras that take a 360-degree panoramic picture. I assume there are also panoramic videocameras for filming IMAX movies. What if you got one of those videocameras and strapped it on a helmet around your head, and then wore goggles so that what you saw was a full panorama?

Your eyes already know to invert an image (since an image hits your retina upside-down), and how to merge two 2D images into a 3D image. Unless this is an inate ability, your brain must learn to do this by coordinating your sight with your other senses over time. So unless this behavior is fixed in childhood, it should be possible to change the way your brain processes your visual input. It should be possible to wear such goggles all the time and eventually adjust to having full-circle vision, perceiving things as though you actually had eyes all around your head.

Simpler experiment: If you wore lenses all the time that inverted everything, would your brain eventually learn to process the image exactly as it appeared on your retina?

More complicated experiment: could you also add cameras above and below the ring of cameras that formed the panoramic camera, creating a near-complete sphere of vision? At what point would your brain be unable to handle the additional information?

Who will volunteer for my monstrous Beholder-Man experiment (funding request pending)?

Games You Already Have Roundup V: The Final Toys: By their own admission these are not games. They are toys. But you know what I always say: a toy is just a game with no win condition. Wait, that makes Color Lines a toy. Well, there's some difference between a toy and a game, but not enough difference to keep me from my obsessive rounding-up. Here we go.

Did I miss something that came with your system? Let me know and I'll review it, unless it is not a game or (catch-all) I don't want to review it.

: I always knew that one day spam would gain sentience, but I didn't expect it would so quickly overtake its authors in intelligence.

Google Memewatch: Tired of what you have? Turn it into something else!

[Comments] (1) Colin Powell the cat is running for president: This one's for Kris, who a long time ago pointed out that the headlines of "offbeat" news stories become orders of magnitude funnier if you shuffle the subjects and the predicates. Well, Kris has been feeling a little low lately so I thought I'd cheer him up by writing Dog Bites Dog (title a Sumana production), the script which does just that every five minutes. It's not as good as doing it by hand, but what did you expect?

I'm spookily intrigued by the possibility of applying this (very simple) algorithm to 'real' news headlines. But right now I'm more intrigued by the possibility of sleeping. Enjoy, all-night surfers and people on the other side of the world.

[Comments] (8) Pope remains in custody: I dreamed about RSS feeds and woke up too early, and got Dog Bites Dog running against a source of non-offbeat news. I'm debating whether to leave it up because it turns out shuffling is a headline mood multiplier: it makes "funny" headlines actually funny, but it makes depressing headlines really depressing ("Powell says US Jailed for Lying", "Life Won't Be Freed").

There are some good ones, though, like "Flying ants End Airbus Subsidies", "Ruling Resigns, Admits Gay Affair", and "Category 4 Charley Raises $2.4 Million Near Seattle". In recognition of this, I decided to just get it to not use the most morbid headline fragments. See what I've done? I'm already making the compromises that result in offbeat news in the first place.

[Comments] (2) Ultimate Chowdah: I made this out of Planet Organic leftovers that I've been too lazy to cook the past few weeks. It is delicious (there is a huge amount left). Sumana says "It's the best chowdah I've ever had." I think it is too.



Put everything except the leeks and the cream in a pot and start a-simmerin'. Saute the leeks in butter and put them in the pot. Once the potatoes and the corn are cooked (maybe 30 minutes), mash the soup with a potato masher. If you want, blend it a little with a stick blender. At the last minute, stir in the cream to turn it into a chowdah.

This is the only recipe I know of that is both a potato-leek soup and a potato-corn chowdah. That's right, it's two soups in one. Step right up!

PS about stick blenders: they cost about $30 except for one particular brand (I forget which) that costs $10. It's not worth $30 to have one but I think it is worth $10. So get the cheap one. It is useful for: soups, whipping cream, light drink-mixing duty.

PPS: Susanna, I made your ninety-minute rolls this morning and they were so good that I made another batch in the evening.

[Comments] (1) : This just in: crazy Turkmenistan dictator Saparmurat Niyazov turns out to be the Ice King! My old nemesis! I should have suspected.

[Comments] (2) Stars Can't Find Missing Nuclear Fuel Rod: Thanks to PyRSS2Gen, Dog Bites Dog now has RSS feeds. This should be fun. Unfortunately, as always seems to happen with me, Feed on Feeds doesn't parse the RSS file correctly even though Feed Validator (Feeeeeeed Validator) says it's valid. Steve?

Update: Bizarrely, it works now.

[Comments] (2) Bamboo!: Bamboo! The miracle wood you can put in the dishwasher! Lighter than oak, sturdier than balsa! Make sure all your spoons, whisks, and wood golems are made of BAMBOO! It is great.

[Comments] (3) : OK, this one takes some explaining. Almost 10 years ago Newt Gingrich wrote an article for his PAC that contained big lists of positive and negative buzzwords for use in political discussion. The point, as is usually the case in politics, was to put attitudes directly into people's heads by piggybacking on peoples' idea of language as a means of communication.

Of course you don't really need the list. Once you've read and written enough political speech the buzzwords just flow from your fingers as you type. But all sorts of irrelevant, non-buzzwords flow from your fingers as well. How can you be sure people see the buzzwords?

Enter the Eater of Meaning. Since political writing contains little meaning to begin with, this eater works a little differently from the others. It simply highlights the buzzwords (green for positive buzzwords, red for negative buzzwords), and leaves everything else alone, letting your readership see the tone of the document at a glance and be appropriately alarmed, reassured, or inspired. Kind of the way Onion articles work, come to think of it. I don't have a good Eater-themed name for it yet; any suggestions?

Examples: #1, #2, vs. a control site in case you think I'm kidding. The list of buzzwords is kind of dated, but on the whole it holds up well. Enjoy.

Update: Danny calls this "'They Live' style shades for political hotwords", which is an excellent summary but which is not Eater-related. My eating metaphor has backed me into a corner while simultaneously painting that corner!

[Comments] (7) Cheese Lust: If you harbor a guilty craving for macaroni and cheese--not the baked kind with breadcrumbs that sounds great but takes too long to make and ends up tasting milquetoast and not cheesy, but the junky kind that comes in a box and is done in fifteen minutes and turns powder that can't possibly be real cheese into sauce that tastes like you're drinking the very lifeblood of some beast made out of (admittedly metallic-tasting) cheese.

Sorry, that turned out to be a sentence fragment. IF [previous paragraph], you will be pleased to know that there is a way to feed your craving that involves real food. A couple days ago I made Alton Brown's Stovetop Mac-n-Cheese recipe, and it was as though the genie of the lamp had said "So, you want it cheesy? I will grant your wish, but with an ironic twist--it will be TOO CHEESY TO EAT!" And it is, almost. I planned to cut it with frozen peas, but my only box of frozen peas expired almost a year ago and looked like it had been defrosted more times than was good for it. I composted the peas and ate it straight.

By the time I was done I was sick of macaroni and cheese and never wanted to eat it again. I packaged up the leftovers and took it to Sumana's house, hoping she would eat the rest. Now, two days later, I want to eat the rest. It's that good.

The only downside is that it's 2-3 times more expensive than the boxed kind. At least it is around here. It's probably proportionately less more expensive (huh?) elsewhere, since the boxed kind seems to cost a dollar everywhere in the country. It's still cheap compared to other dinners you could be having. My faith in Alton Brown is vindicated! Maybe his baked macaroni and cheese will finally live up to my mental image of "baked macaroni and cheese".

[Comments] (4) Poisoned!: Last weekend I noticed some plants in my garden which hadn't been growing before. I didn't know what it was, but it was growing where I'd planted stuff, so I assumed I must have planted it, so I broke off part of a leaf and tasted it. My tongue started tingling, and not in a good this-is-hot sort of way. Uh-oh.

It turns out it was a lily, and that lilies are made of poison. The previous tenants must have planted some lily bulbs that suddenly decided to grow even though the stuff I planted is not growing that well. Anyway, I washed my mouth out with a lot of milk and have so far not died.

The lesson is, don't put something in your mouth just because it grew in ground you now control.

[Comments] (1) : Seth's moment in the AP photo wire limelight. I like making up my own stories about that photo, more than I usually like making up stories about photo wire photos. Eg. Seth and the guy to his left are impeccably dressed Tarantinoid hitmen who have just missed their chance to bump off Attorney Fred von Lohmann. Or they noticed an enormous praying mantis perched on his back or something. Try it! It's fun.

[Comments] (2) How Dead Will You Be? #2: Sumana, preparing for her vacation to Tokyo, showed me Why don't you try simulation of earthquake,wind and flood damage. Why don't I? Great tourism interface on that site.

[Comments] (1) : Pieces of ship. How many cargo ships sink every year? In Dangerous Waters I read some huge number like 200. Can that be right? Do they get recovered like that ship did or do they just grow barnacles and wait for future archaeologists or treasure hunters?

[Comments] (1) : One of the best things about Sumana's stash of Amar Chitra Katha comics (apart from hilarious bird-related dialog like "It is time for my parrot to act." and "Caw, caw.") is the ads that took aim at Indian kids of the 1980s with bizarre condescension ("Rearrange the missing letters to form the name of a well-known medicated plaster") and borderline trademark infringement. Well, now these ads come to life on Vishal Patel's site.

He has scanned comic-ads from Tinkle, the folktale-packed foolishly-named ACK adjunct magazine that Sumana has but a few copies of. I've always liked it nonetheless, due to its providing a home for Doob Doob and Kalia the Crow (Caw, caw.).

Viva Las Metavegas: Though I have no particular love for Las Vegas, I do love articles that treat the city as a perverse optimization problem. It's the generalization of trying to beat the casino games. Here are a couple such articles I found a ways back, and today I found another, more pragmatic one. Now that's what I call better satisfying the fitness function!

[Comments] (7) User Stories: Explain to me why, outside of a puzzle, someone would boil eggs and then not use them and instead put them back in the fridge and somehow get them confused with non-boiled eggs and need a way of distinguishing boiled from non-. Who needs to stock up on hard-boiled eggs days in advance?

[Comments] (12) Also, You Can Only Use A Barometer: Since the last entry got so many comments, I would like to make this entry another in the same vein, because I like comments. How many ways can we come up with to distinguish hard-boiled eggs from regular eggs? No cost is too high, no preparation too elaborate. My contributions:

[Comments] (11) Hubristic Game Roundup: The good news is that, despite the presence of a couple of clones, this Game Roundup has some of the best ideas and some of the nicest implementations I've seen in a while. The bad news is that apart from the fabulously bizarre but lightweight Komi and the unassuming icebreaker, these games have Greek-tragedy-quality flaws--sometimes trivial flaws--that make the games not worth playing. I will start with the greatest tragedy of this roundup:

[Comments] (1) Mea Culpa (And Carpa): I'll check this out tonight, but I have it on the good word of anonymous that GearHead will indeed let you use Roguelike keys to control your mecha if you tell it to. This is great news since it would let me give an unqualified recomendation of GearHead, though it doesn't explain why the other interface even exists much less is the default. Grumble grumble.

Down To Earth: Hey you! Stop looking at the stars! Shuffle your feet and look at rocks instead!

Wow, there are a lot more X Pictures of the Day than the last time I checked. How about a roundup?

[Comments] (1) Game Roundup: Authors' Revenge: How exciting! Today's the day when game authors and contributors strike back in typical genteel fashion at my Roundup reviews. First it was Joseph Hewitt defending Gearhead from my slanders, and now Richard Hoelscher, contributor of graphics to the Gnome games, sees fit to respond to my ground-disrupting "Games You Already Have Roundup" cycle. Here's his email (address redacted as per his request), which mainly details things I noticed that will be fixed in the next release of gnome-games; I'll just respond to a couple points of his.

"There is GNOME Sokoban already implemented as a set of caves within GNOME Stones." Of course there is. I should have seen that coming, since the exact same thing happened with Rocks 'n' Diamonds.

Re the Minesweeper clone smackdown where I didn't care: he tipped the scale hugely in favor of Gnome by pointing out that the Gnome version lets you choose a board of up to 100x100 for a huge Minesweeper experience, while the KDE version limits you to a puny 50x50 board. New winner of KDE/Gnome Minesweeper clone smackdown: Gnome! That happy face is still a little creepy, though. Reminds me of the Pac-Man cartoon.

[Comments] (1) This Time For Sure: Okay, this was a false alarm, but I don't see how the Earth can survive this one.

[Comments] (1) A Couple Things About Nethack: Nethack is complicated enough to have developed its own set of urban myths (dungeon myths?). Myths and Facts about Nethack zaps the myths with a wand of cancellation.

More interestingly, it turns out that most of the weird Nethack shopkeeper names are names of towns in various parts of the world.

Oh, and the Kingdom of Loathing now has a Nethack dungeon.

[Comments] (2) Leonard's Household Tips: Don't make caramel sauce without a really well thought-out plan for storing it, or you will burn and melt things and the caramel will become useless.

[Comments] (1) NewsBruiser: Aggregated Assault: I have some 5x7 notecards and I write down my big projects on them so that if I ever feel lackadaisical like I don't have any big projects, I can look at the notecards and remember that I'm just lazy.

This is one of the projects and to be honest there's not much on its notecard except the name--that's how lazy I am. But phase one is now complete: you can now take arbitrary RSS feeds and aggregate them into a NewsBruiser weblog, a la my arch-rival Scott's Planet.

Viola! I give you the long-promised Richardson/Chadwick/Matkin/Whitney/Walch recipe weblog! Right now it only has me and Susanna since we're the only ones with a category where our recipes go. If you've got a weblog on this site and you want in, send me mail and I'll show you how to create a category. You don't have to do anything special to get recipes to show up in this weblog; just post to your category and they'll show up within an hour.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream: As a test of the automatic aggregation, I'll post the most recent recipe I've made. I'm having a little dinner party tomorrow and tonight I made butter pecan ice cream. This is a good time to formally state the pound-cake-like Generic Ice Cream Mneumonic I've come up with:

I'm experimenting with heating the sugar along with the cream and milk. It worked out well this time, so heat all that up in a pan.

Now, the rest of my mneumonic (patent pending) is '1 cup flavor stuff'. However, the flavor of butter pecan ice cream depends in large part on the brown sugar we're using, so that kind of counts as 'flavor stuff' and we actually want less than 1 cup. What I used was:

If you're offended by the idea of deviation from the mneumonic I made up, then 1) that's kind of weird, and 2) you can probably do 1 cup of nuts and 3 tablespoons of butter without ruining the ice cream.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the pecans and toss to coat. Toast the pecans. I dunno when you stop exactly; generally you stop toasting nuts as soon as you smell the oils being released, but something is wrong with my sense of smell today so I just stopped when they looked right. Dump the nuts and butter into the cream/milk/sugar mixture. Stir in The Old Standbys:

When you've got nuts and sugar and cold, you know there's got to be salt.

There's your mix. Let it cool and then machine it. Very tasty.

HEY LADIES: FLOOD INTO MEXICO AND CANADA: The Weekly World News is weird. I don't mean their articles are weird, though the good ones are. I mean they have no consistent narrative about themselves. For instance, The Onion has a conceit that it's a very serious newspaper and is not funny at all, which is actually pretty close to the truth. But the WWN, while not actually claiming to be a joke, doesn't even pretend you're supposed to believe it. It's supposed to shock you, but you can't be shocked by something you know isn't real and were kind of expecting anyway.

Evidence: this contest where you have to make up a headline for the B-movie quality photo. Lots of sites have photo caption contests, but you get the feeling WWN is using the caption contest to figure out the best angle on the story that will eventually go with the picture. Also, every week someone submits "Michael Jackson's New Shocking Look" as a headline, and it's got a pretty good win/loss record, which is just sad.

The other thing is that if they should stumble upon an actually interesting fact, they obfuscate it. Look at this article on typos in printings of the Bible. Now, typos do happen in printings of the Bible and there are lists of them. But the WWN article, while clearly based on such a list, bears the marks of the writer saying "I can think up funnier typos than this!", failing, and publishing their list anyway in preference to the real one which is funnier. It's like they have some code of reverse journalism where they can't publish anything true.

Anyway, I didn't write this to pick on WWN, though it turned out that way because honestly the magazine itself as a physical object gives me the creeps--it's something about the paper. Okay, gotta concentrate. Get to the point and don't say anything else negative about WWN. THE POINT IS that I added a couple more news sources to Dog Bites Dog, on an auxilliary page. It's got WWN headlines and a huge conglomoration which mixes up headlines from the 3 other news sources, and which is quickly becoming my favorite.

Does anyone have more suggestions for sources? It has to be something that usually uses "Crazed Noun Verbs As Bystanders Look On Helplessly" type headlines, because that's all it can parse.

: We offer a complete crime solution, from cradle-robbing to grave-robbing.

[Comments] (5) Kerry selling his vote on e-Bay to pay bills: I made some changes to Dog Bites Dog to make it get better (ie. "gramatically correct more often") headlines but most of my attempts backfired. I think I improved the average headline quality a little, though. I'm now into heuristic territory (while "man" can be a verb, it's exceedingly unlikely that it is the verb in a headline).

Also, I had a dinner party last night, and I made an ice cream pie which was one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten. Also an artichoke-spinach-cheese dip which I'm having for dinner tonight with my first loaf of French bread. Anyway, at the party were Riana and Seth and Riana's friend Alexey. Riana and Seth have this parrrrrpetual Talk Like A Pirate Day thing going on when they're arrrround each other. Like that. Eventually I pointed out how easy it would be to add a mode to the Eater of Meaning that did the same thing, and well, one thing led to another and before you could say "Let us time how long it takes for you to implement the mode of which we have been speaking", Seth had started his stopwatch and I was running to the computer room. Elapsed time: 3 minutes. Though I put some more time into it afterwards fixing edge cases so that you can discuss things like the aRRRRRTs sound server.

Also, the Eater of Meaning goes further and further off its original goal of destroying all human communication, and is quickly becoming just a framework for writing web filters really quickly. I swear I don't plan these things, they just happen.

[Comments] (3) : By request, here are recipes for the things I served at my Sunday night dinner party:

[Comments] (2) Negative Links: Sometimes people get ideas about how there should be a special attribute you can give to an <A> tag that indicates just how you feel about the awful, awful thing you're linking to. So that search engines and other programs that analyze links don't misconstrue your linking as endorsement. Unfortunately due to the vagueness of the idea and the fact that it's kind of hard to search for things like "html" and "link", I haven't been able to find anybody's ideas on this topic. Does anyone know of any? I don't want to make up my own ideas because that will defeat the purpose of building some ad hoc consensus.

Somewhat relatedly, some of my readers may not know (and others may know all too well) that there's a whole sub-economy based on gaming search results. The currency of this sub-economy is units of Google PageRank, and it is kind of weird.

If You Read One NYCB This Summer, Read This One: Here's another, much more significant entry from the 'some of my readers may not know (and others may know all too well)' file. Lots of states are using a particular company's (Diebold's) system to tally votes in their state and federal elections. It turns out it's very easy to attack this system to make it give different vote tallies from the actual tallies.

The system keeps two sets of books, and you can get it to display tallies from the fake set instead of the set that reflects people's actual votes. Paper verification ballots are useless, because the software knows to use the real data for spot checks and only uses the fake data to report aggregate results. This is really bad. It undermines the integrity of the election system.

Something like this has long been suspected, and it is a general problem with electronic voting and vote counting systems, but it is no longer a hypothetical problem. The attack actually exists and has been demonstrated. (That link has a very detailed article about the problem which I recommend you read.) The system has been in place for four years in 30 states. It's possible it has already enabled election fraud.

As in accounting, keeping two sets of books is not something you do unless you want to cheat or are being pressured to cheat. It's not a bug--it's a whole other system designed for cheating, hidden inside the system the states were sold. The authors of that article pin the blame on a specific person, who had means, motive, and opportunity. But who specifically did it is not as important as the reaction to the discovery of the problem, which has been just awful.

Let's suppose I did something like this at the company where I work, and play out the scenario that would happen once someone found out. Obviously I would be immediately fired. My now-ex-employer would inform all our clients about the problem, and they in turn would demand that 'we' fix the problem immediately. Most of the bigger clients would ask that their sites be shut down until the problem was fixed. Everyone would take the problem very seriously.

While it would not be in my now-ex-company's interest to have information about the problem made public (at least until it had been fixed), it would also not be in their interest to let the problem remain unfixed. It would also not be in the client's interest to ignore the problem. If anyone ever exploited this hypothetical problem it would cause enormous damage to the client, and if we didn't fix it quick they would fire 'us', quickly.

Now let's exit that hypothetical and see what happened in the real world. As far as I can glean from that article, (it's a little vague), the person they blame doesn't work at Diebold anymore. I don't know if this is because he was fired, or because he got sent to prison for (unrelated but motive-providing) embezzlement.

But that is all that's happened. Nobody seems interested in fixing the problem, and according to the people who know how to exploit the problem, a lot of the time they can't get the interested parties to even watch a demonstration.

What's wrong with this picture? Here's my guess. Note that I'm going to explain this situation without claiming that any of the parties currently involved want to rig elections, which is certainly a possiblity but which explaining things that way tends to get you dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. Anyway, the problem exists and is exploitable whether or not I'm a conspiracy theorist.

Diebold is (in my explanation) trying to keep the counties and states from demanding action because any effective action would result in Diebold losing the contract--remember, this back door has been in the software for years. It's already way past "fix this now or else" territory and into "we don't trust you and we never can" territory--if the state wanted to take action.

The state officials don't want to take action because they don't want to admit that such a huge problem could happen on their watch. They know that if this knowledge becomes widespread the public will blame them (with some justification). A lot of them also have a lot of political capital invested in "information superhighway" type electronic voting rhetoric, and the states have put a lot of money (by state budget standards) into these fancy systems. It would cost a lot of time and money to switch. And for what? So you can say "Yes, this election was secure."? Well, you can say that no matter what, and save the time and money.

There's also no upside to solving the problem for the state officials. They are not directly damaged by bad elections so long as no one finds out they were bad (unless their opponent rigs the Secretary of State election against them, which would be ironic but also difficult). The only reason they should try to solve this problem is that their job is to not let this problem happen. California's secretary of state, Kevin Shelley, is the only official I know of who is doing his job in this respect.

If there were consequences for ignoring the problem, there would be incentive for the state officials to fix it. We wouldn't have to depend on government officials wanting to do the right thing. Right now there are no consequences because for the most part the ultimate bosses of everyone in this scenario (the citizens of the states) don't know about the problem yet. If the state officials watch a demonstration of the problem, they destroy any plausible deniability they might have had, and they create a news hook for media investigations into the problem. That's why they don't want to even look at it.

I am posting this entry to do my part to get rid of the plausible deniability. It's very important that the states secure the application as best they can for the coming election, and switch to a more secure system as soon as possible.

[Comments] (4) One Piece At A Time: There's lots of Python code that pings weblogs.com, but I couldn't find a Python library for the other side of the equation; one that parses the big XML file of recent pings. That's why I developed the Ass-Kicking Laser Algorithm, which does that very thing. Even with the paucity of things you could conceivably do with the weblogs.com XML file, I think it has more options than are wise. Once I start actually using it I may trim it down. But like I say, one piece at a time.

The name is Kris'. He came up with it in 1998 when I was complaining that the algorithms I was learning about in class didn't live up to their cool names, like the gift wrapping algorithm and Graham's Scan. Since any interesting name I could give this library would set the user up for an anticlimax, I figured I'd go all the way. Thanks, Kris.

In retrospect, though, Graham's Scan is pretty cool.

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