Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 30 September 2002

The Git isn't much of a one for remembering anniversaries, so that's probably why he let September 25 slip past unnoticed. That was the date, two years ago, when these daily rants started. As of a few days ago, the solid and reliable servers of American Web Hosting had served up more than 80,000 page reads. As expected, when The Git finished The House of Steel, page reads dropped off, but by far less than anticipated and soon returned to what they had been. It has never been The Git's intention to create a "popular" website, just a convenient place to collect his miscellaneous thoughts. 

Chart page reads per day

Mrs Git remarked that the change to our new ISP has shoved the phone-call rate up a lot. The Git asked to see the Telstra account (it's in her name) and sure enough, there's line rental and call charges for a third telephone line. It seems Mrs Git hadn't realised that the line we use for accessing the Internet was being paid for by The Git in his name! A telephone call to Telstra today confirmed that we have indeed been paying twice for that line under two different telephone numbers, so we are due for a hefty refund. The Git forgot to ask for the 11.2kbps of bandwidth back that they took away when we moved into The House of Steel.

Looking back though his telephone bills, The Git notes that Mrs Git was correct. The number of phone calls on the Internet line is now ten times the number when we were with the late lamented DingoBlue. Less bandwidth and higher cost! Ptui!

-oOo-

One site The Git enjoys from time to time is the Accuracy in Media website. The August Report makes interesting reading:

AMITAI ETZIONI, A PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY AND AUTHOR OF "The Moral Dimension," recently had an article in The Washington Post titled, "When It Comes to Ethics, B-Schools Get an F." Etzioni taught ethics at the Harvard Business School in 1987-89. The school had received a gift of $20 million to fund the teaching of ethics. The faculty debated this at length. Etzioni says, "Reactions ranged from distrust to outright hostility." A finance professor who was teaching students how to increase profits by breaking implicit contracts was worried. A marketing professor pointed out that much of what they were teaching was a form of dissembling, such as increasing sales by putting small items in large boxes. An economist was opposed, saying they were there to teach science, not ethics. A course was begun, but it was one to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible, Etzioni says. His students told him repeatedly that companies could not afford to be guided by ethics; they would lose out to ruthless competitors. This was what they were being taught. He tells of a study of 2,000 graduates of the 13 top business schools. It found that studying for an MBA weakened their moral character. The percentage who said maximizing shareholder value was a corporation's prime responsibility went from 68 percent when they entered the MBA program to 82 percent by the end of the first year. The lesson I see in this is that moral values must be taught beginning in grade school. Graduate school is too late.

For a Report that started out with anthropogenic global warming as the topic, a surprising final paragraph if you haven't read the whole piece. In a bizarre way, it ties in with last week's rants.

-oOo-

Found in my Inbox:

Thought you might find this interesting...

RC5-64 Project Completed http://www.distributed.net/pressroom/news-20020926.html On 14-Jul-2002, a relatively characterless PIII-450 in Tokyo returned the winning key to the distributed.net keyservers. The key 0x63DE7DC154F4D039 produces the plaintext output: The unknown message is: some things are better left unread

Unfortunately, due to breakage in scripts (dbaker's fault, naturally) on the keymaster, this successful submission was not automatically detected. It sat undiscovered until 12-Aug-2002. The key was immediately submitted to RSA Labs and was verified as the winning key.

So, after 1,757 days and 58,747,597,657 work units tested the winning key was found! While it's debatable that the duration of this project does much to devalue the security of a 64-bit RC5 key by much, we can say with confidence that RC5-64 is not an appropriate algorithm to use for data that will still be sensitive in more than several years' time. On the distributed computing front, however, the RC5-64 project clearly demonstrates the viability of long-term, volunteer-driven, internet-based collaborative efforts. The next time someone bemoans the public's short attention span or need for instant gratification you should remind them what 331,252 people were able to accomplish by joining together and working for nearly five years. distributed.net's RC5- 64 project clearly shows that even the most ambitious projects can be completed by volunteers thanks to the combined power of the internet and distributed computing.

David Sales

Thought for the day:

Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.

Sir Winston Churchill

Current Listening:

Kevin Coyne -- Pointing the Finger


Top

Tuesday 1 October 2002

Today my back felt considerably better than it has for some weeks now. A good night's sleep and The Git celebrated by playing some Civilization Call to Power 2. It must be more than a year since Thomas purchased it for me and I have yet to complete a game. It's not that it's difficult, rather the reverse after years of playing the turn based strategy civ games. Just that it consumes lots of time and usually The Git feels constrained to do more "useful" things with his time.

Thought for the day:

If you wish to begin life at forty, you must settle two large personal questions first of all. You must find work and play that call for no more energy than you can afford to spend on them. Then you must train your mind, eye and hand to the point of working and playing with ease, grace and precision.

Walter B. Pitkin

Current Listening:

Thijs van Leer -- Introspection


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Wednesday 2 October 2002

One thing The Git's new ISP has allowed is emailing a friend at a US .mil address that always bounced my mail from DingoBlue. He still has problems with other email addresses. Such as David Magda, who writes:

Found an interesting story over at Mediachannel.org 

Thought you or some people you know would be interested in it.

The piece opens with:

Secret web bans in FOI changes 
Simon Hayes OCTOBER 01, 2002

WEBSITES protesting against November's World Trade Organisation meeting in Sydney could be secretly banned under proposed laws.

For a long time The Git couldn't send email to Mark Zimmermann whose interesting ^Zhurnal is part of The Git's waking up time. He hopes that the 50th birthdaygreetings he sent were received. The Daynotes Gang backchannel is working though. The Git wrote:

The Git is thinking very seriously about getting a Mac. More precisely, he is thinking about *building* one. The other day I found a web page describing how to put a Mac logic board in a standard ATX case. SWMBO, being on vacation, was using The Git's machine and carefully closed all open windows before starting Word to do some writing. (Who said women are better multi-taskers than men? :-) So, for the life of me I cannot remember where I saw the piece on build-your-own Mac. Can anyone help?

To which Mat Lemmings replied:

One 100% beef patty, one bun, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

Or two patties if you want a BIG Mac...

and John Dominick added:

Sheesh. Silly Brit. ;-)

"Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun."

Or, to quote a schoolyard punchline from about the same time,

"Two All-Beef Pattys, Special Russ, Lester Sleaze Picking Bunions on a Sesame Street Bus."

Now, If I could only remember the joke...

so The Git punished them with the following joke:

A Scotsman, an Italian, and an Irishman are in a bar. They are having a good time and all agree that the bar is a nice place. Then the Scotsman says, "Aye, this is a nice bar, but where I come from, back in Glasgee, there's a better one. At MacDougal's, ye buy a drink, ye buy another drink, and MacDougal himself will buy yir third drink!"

The others agree that sounds like a good place.

Then the Italian says, "Yeah, dat's a nica bar, but where I come from, dere's a better one....... In Roma, dere's this place, Vincenzo's. At Vincenzo's, you buy a drink, Vincenzo buys you a drink. You buy anudda drink, Vincenzo buys you anudda drink." Everyone agrees that sounds like a great bar.

Then the Irishman says, "You tink dat's great? Where Oi come from in Oirland, dere's dis place called Morphy's. At Morphy's, dey boy you your forst drink, dey boy you your second drink, dey boy you your tird drink, and den, dey take you in de back and get you laid!" Wow!" say the other two. That's fantastic! Did that actually happen to you?"

No," replies the Irish guy, "but it happened to me sister!!!

Of course, The Git notes that despite having email problems messaging people he wants to communicate with, the spammers seem to have noooo problem sending him requests to join in multimillion dollar scams, purchase breast enlargement, or view pictures of young ladies doing with barnyard animals what they would normally be expected to do with humans.

Oh, and Dan Seto came to the rescue with:

Google is good. Google is your friend. Google can find things like this:

http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/systems/MacinPC_ATX_case/BeigeG3inATXcase.html

Aloha - Dan

Thanks Dan. Google is indeed my friend, but the Internet never seems to work well for me until I have consumed at least two litres of coffee!

-oOo-

A very cool start to the day! We have yet to start harvesting asparagus and methinks that makes this the latest start to asparagus harvest in The Git's memory. The earliest was late June. On 25th September, snow fell in the Munich area of Germany. This is the first time that snow has fallen there, in September, since 1442:

Weather Eye: September 27, 2002 by Paul Simons

A BLAST of winter came early to the Alps on Tuesday night, when a bitterly cold storm dropped two feet of snow on Austria's Sonnblick mountains. Stranger still, the storm also left Munich under snow, the earliest autumn snowfall since 1442. At that time Henry VI ruled England and a chunk of France, while the rather laidback Austrian king, Frederick III, was more interested in astrology than ruling his country.

Across Europe, the climate had been proving to be a growing problem, when a run of severe winters in the 1430s crippled vineyards and wine production plunged from the halcyon days of the previous century.

The snowfall of September 1442 heralded a cruel winter that lasted well into May. Chroniclers of the time described how large rivers like the Rhine were frozen for three months and snow lay on the ground for eight months. A thaw did not arrive until the last week of May.

This period in the early 1400s was the start of a spectacularly cold epoch called the Little Ice Age, which lasted on and off until the 1800s. In Europe, glaciers grew larger, trees retreated from the Arctic regions and there were frequent famines as harvests failed in the cold, wet weather.

Thought for the day:

A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?

Kahlil Gibran

Current Listening:

Viv Stanshall -- Teddy Boys Don't Lie


Top

Thursday 3 October 2002

Busy introducing a friend to computing. The last time he used a computer it was a Mac Plus when they were the latest and greatest. Afterwards, The Git's back was almost as bad as three weeks ago, so he decided that lying down was preferable to pounding the keyboard.

Thought for the day:

If you don't learn to laugh at troubles, you won't have anything to laugh at when you grow old.

Ed Howe

Current Listening:

Jethro Tull -- Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die


Top

Friday 4 October 2002

From the Inbox:

Jonathan, for your general information, about organic food regulations. Bob

YOU CAN JUDGE A FOOD BY ITS LABEL In a big step for the organic food industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is poised to roll out an official "USDA Organic" seal and launch a long-awaited national standard to replace the existing hodgepodge of state and private certification systems. Food will have to contain 95 percent organic ingredients to be eligible for the label, a move that should put an end to the current, er, creative labeling practices of some food companies. Some small farmers are concerned that the 95 percent rule will actually lower the bar for big organic farmers, but most say that, all in all, they're glad the feds are wising up to the importance of mainstreaming organic food. Sales of organic foods in the U.S. are growing by about 20 percent annually and are expected to surpass $11 billion this year.

straight to the source: Seattle Times, Jake Batsell, 02 Oct 2002 

Bob, while I worked very hard to bring organic certification and labelling to full legal status here in Oz, I am still very mindful of Vermont's Eliot Coleman's take: "Better to know the first name of whoever grows your food". Perhaps it's old age that makes me more dyspeptic and distrusting of bureaucratic systems. It seemed to me when Eliot said that, that at heart, organic was about being kind to the land and the consumer rather than creating a club you were either a member of, or not.

Very soon after that conversation, the danger of a labelling/certification scheme came to light here with the discovery of fraud by a farmer in relation to organic wheat. As long as the concept of organic/not organic wheat exists, there's a bureaucracy growing fat off the fact that there's a difference. Better, methinks, to encourage farming systems that make such distinction irrelevant.

An interesting one from Mike Pepperday:

Dear Git,

Two topics: war prevention and Popperian falsification

Last week you mentioned a text book by Possony, Pournelle and Kane. I took a look at Chapter 9, The Prevention of War. I have some niggles.

"We [the USA] seek no political, economic, or territorial aggrandizement. We do seek to prevent war. These objectives are clearly in direct opposition to those of the Communist bloc. They seek world domination. They create opportunities to use warfare to attain it."

The subtext, that we are the goodies and they are the baddies, can only get in the way of clear thinking about war prevention. I have never read any Clausewitz or Sun Tzu but would be surprised it they indulge in propaganda or righteousness.

"Yet history seems to indicate that the greater the state of conventional armaments acquired, the greater the chance for war"

Perhaps but then, the greater the number of hospitals the greater the chance there'll be sick people about. The Swiss staked their existence on the opposite thesis as in the authors' quote a couple of lines before: "If you would have peace, prepare thou then for war." Armed as no other country, Switzerland has, in over 150 years, not lost a single soldier.

"Dictatorial regimes are notoriously generous with human lives; democratic governments fear casualties and usually fight only, and frequently belatedly, to preserve their own security."

The notoriety may sound plausible but is not a general belief among international relations experts and it seems an odd thing for American authors to assert in the wake of Korea and Vietnam. It is we-are-the-goodies-they-are-the-baddies muddled thinking. Some researchers have concluded that liberal democracies are more prone to make war than authoritarian regimes.

I am not inclined to read much further. The reason I checked this particular chapter was to see if they mentioned the most important war prevention factor. They don't.

They don't say that the counter to war is democracy. Someone (a chap named Rummel, I think) noticed in the mid 1970s that democracies never war against each other. In an America smarting over Vietnam, this wasn't welcome news but by the mid eighties it had broad currency in political science circles and by 1994 Clinton could assert it in his State of the Union address. The importance of this "democratic peace" for war prevention is obvious.

* * * You will be interested to learn of an inadvertent experiment I found myself conducting using this - a sort of confirmation of Popper's falsification hypothesis. You might like to try it yourself.

A few years ago I took a leisurely sailing trip up the WA coast during which I spent quite a lot of time (for me) sitting around in pubs and clubs at various ports yarning with other yachties and locals. On several occasions I had the opportunity to declare, with all the authority of three beers, that "democracies never make war with each other." Nobody ever believed it. The instant reaction in every case was to try to falsify it. (I never came across anyone who had heard of it before.)

I understand that when Popper first brought up the falsifiability criterion, he was laughed at. Nowadays it is accepted as pretty much the way science is done, or if it is not, then the way science ought to be done. However my "experiment" would indicate that Popperian falsification is a natural human proclivity and when you think about it, surely most scientists will react with scepticism to a new finding and are motivated to test it and to prove it wrong. It is curious, in view of this, that the falsifiability idea is counter-intuitive when you first hear of it.

Every red-blooded bloke has an opinion on defense and the average bar fly's mental data base of wars is fairly extensive. In their search for a falsifying example I have heard that Hitler was a democrat and that the Pinochet takeover was a war between the US and Chile - among other more or less desperate suggestions. These attempts to falsify tend to do the opposite because the need to resort to implausible instances implicitly confirms the hypothesis - and this is pretty apparent at the time.

You might expect that my interlocutors are, via this process, persuaded and enlightened. Alas, no. The evidence has been examined, the thesis tested and found to be sound, however reason does not prevail. I remember one of my "subjects" getting quite angry. I understand this is how scientists sometimes react to evidence falsifying their beliefs too. It is odd, is it not, how people are not grateful to be freed of their illusions?

I found an effective way to persuade was by breezily declaring (as if I had merely overlooked to mention it earlier) that the "fact" that democracies never war on each other has for some years been accepted wisdom among defense experts. As some of your soundings-off would confirm, scientists are often similarly persuaded.

Mike Pepperday.

It's a considerable passage of years since I actually read Possony, Pournelle and Kane's book. The gist of it seemed to be that the war between the two Great Empires required no combat -- it was more a technological race that so long as the US remained significantly ahead of the USSR, meant that an outbreak of violence would have only one result -- the defeat of the USSR.

Seen in that light, the conflict in Vietnam was a test of the effectiveness of US technology versus the Soviets. The US sustained the cost -- the USSR severely damaged its more fragile economy. Thus the Cold War came to an end much sooner. Note that The Git does not approve of this.

Your observation that war and democracy are incompatible seems entirely accurate. Lao Tsu pointed out several millennia ago that in any conflict, the two sides must necessarily come to resemble each other. Thus the USSR adopted some of the US's capitalism and US governments have become increasingly aggressive towards their own citizens. Neither seem deserving of the term democratic.

I am most impressed by your observation on Popper's falsification. Of course Popper's ideas at heart are simple to understand and he explained them in simple terms, earning the wrath of the philosophical establishment. Mystification of simple concepts is only of interest to those who wish to rule and I expect to find that when I manage to acquire a copy Popper's "Open Society" to find some explications of my thoughts in that direction.

Thought for the day:

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.

Max Lucade

Current Listening:

The Cranberries -- No Need to Argue


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Jonathan Sturm 2002