Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Correction: election date

Whoops! When I wrote about voting last week, I mistakenly said the election was on November 9. It’s actually on November 7. Sorry for the confusion, and please remember to vote!

Outclassed at bridge

I went to the New Barrington Bridge Club tonight, feeling a bit rusty after a month without playing. I had been a bit reluctant to go because my coworker, Fred, said that the bridge scene in LA is mostly senile people playing kitchen bridge. I don’t know what club he frequents, but I had the exact opposite experience! My partner for the evening was Danny Kleinman (director of the Master Solver’s column in Bridge World magazine and author of numerous books, including the Principle of Restricted Talent). Over the course of the evening, my opponents included Jennifer Einberg (editor in chief of the Southern California Bridge News) and a woman who helped invent High Card Points back in the ’50s (HCPs eventually became the defining feature of the Goren bidding system, which was a precursor to the Standard American bidding system). and that doesn’t include any people who were too modest to reveal who they really were. This club had more famous people than I ever imagined I would play with/against. It was amazing!

It was pretty obvious that I was rusty—I made several pretty big mistakes. The problem with playing with a nationally-renowned expert is that he points out not only your big mistakes, but your little ones, and many mistakes that you didn’t even notice you made. We finished the night with a 44.7% game, taking 11th place out of 13. I suspect we would have done better if we had gone over our conventions before the game started; I told him I play Standard American with most gadgets he wants to throw at me, and he gave me his regular convention card and left it at that. By the second round, I had to admit I don’t know Reverse Lebensohl, so we dropped that. Later in the evening, I messed up Hamilton (a defense against strong notrump), since although I learned it at one point, I have never actually used it. I also missed a mini-splinter bid (I’m used to splinters being double jumps by responder in new suits out of competition; this was a single jump in a new suit by opener after a minimum response by me). Woah! It looks like I have a lot to learn. Still, it was a pretty fun night. I wish they had more evening games; the only games I can go to are Tuesday and Friday evenings, and I don’t want to spend Friday nights with old people. Still, I’ll be back next week.

Wet Nude Spa

I suspect my anagrams are showing more than Hannibal Lecter’s, but I didn’t want another boring title.

Israel has ended its blockake of Lebanon, now that UN troops supplied by Europe have begun to take charge of the area. Near as I can tell, Israel has now completely withdrawn its military presence from Lebanon. Although I am not optimistic that this will mark the start of a more peaceful era in the region, it’s at least a new direction for events to take. We’ll see how well this all works.

Also, here is an interesting/scary portrait of a hardcore member of the religious right (and a Wikipedia biography of her). Special thanks to muddbstrd for the first link. To summarize: this woman has accepted large amounts of illegal campaign donations, presided over the Florida election recount in 2000, and claims that it is a sin to separate church and state. It’s a bit creepy that such people are playing such a prominent role in the government, and that they have such widespread support: Rep. Harris has been elected for 2 terms now. Now that Tom DeLay has resigned, I seem to be noticing several other people with unethical and unconstitutional agendas, most notably in the Republican party. I realize that the segment of the population with whom I associate is a bit skewed, but I still can’t understand how people like this have so much support. Are they elected by uninformed people who don’t know about Rep. Harris’ views, or do they actually agree with her? Is there really a significant part of the country that believes that separation of chuch and state is a bad thing? Am I only reading about the really outlandish claims because they are the only ones who can get into sensationalist stories these days? Can anyone actually find a good argument to back up a statement such as, “If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin” or a similar claim about putting the 10 Commandments in courthouses?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has heard the complaints of the Facebook members and added more privacy settings to the News Feed and Minifeeds on the site. It was pretty special to see 750,000 people stand up in protest to the Feed over the course of about 3 days. I wish people could do this for more important issues, such as all the human rights issues that China is having. Unfortunately, it seems that people will only do stuff like that if the consequences directly affect them. Still, it was pretty cool to be a part of this and have a satisfactory conclusion.

Finally, it seems that Amazon Unbox,’s new system to sell and distribute DRM’ed movies, has some very spyware-like characteristics to it. It seems to call home quite often, and has some very odd behavior when you try to uninstall it. A choice quote from the article that was also on the Slashdot synopsis: “to be allowed the privilege of purchasing a video that I can’t burn to DVD and can’t watch on my iPod, I have to allow a program to hijack my start-up and force me to login to uninstall it.” This seems like a kind of bad deal. Hopefully other consumers will be aware of this and either explicitly accept it or not use Unbox.

Passwords and Social Insecurity

Why do private companies treat your social security number like a personal ID number? The government doesn’t do this: the only federal paper that will have your SSN on it is your Social Security Card. It does not appear on your passport, your drivers license, or your birth certificate. and yet, the last 4 digits of your SSN is the default PIN for many ATM accounts. It was my keycode to clock in and out at a summer job I once had. I just got a copy of a background check Google did on me before hiring me (if your employer does a similar check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to get a copy), and the password I used to access it was those same 4 digits. Moreover, these last 4 numbers are written in two different places on this report. Insurance companies ask for these numbers when you sign up with them. So do apartment rental companies. They have no business checking on how much money I have paid/received to/from Social Security, and the number should not have any other purpose.

When Social Security was created, the intention was never to make these numbers identify you throughout your life! If some less-than-upstanding person gets these 4 digits, I don’t want them to suddenly have access to my bank account, credit report, insurance policy, etc. This is exactly how identity theft gets started! Is my family the only one concerned about this? Would anyone be willing to step up and present the other side of this?

One reason I’m worked up about this now is that I have just avoided having my identity stolen: I received a piece of mail on Bank of America letterhead saying that there was a problem with my credit card, and I should call the number provided to straighten it out. I needed to have my credit card number ready so they could verify some questionable actions taken on the account. The only problem? I don’t have a BoA credit card. At least, I didn’t. The next day, as if to rectify this problem, my new BoA credit card arrived in the mail. The phone number given in the letter is nowhere to be found on the BoA website, or indeed any website indexed by Google. I’m heading to the bank tomorrow to try to clear this up, and possibly to the post office afterwards: this can likely be considered mail fraud as well as attempted identity theft and attempted credit card fraud. I have no proof that this is related to misuse of my social security number, but the SSNs are a tangential topic about which I have much more knowledge.

The bottom line is this: protect your SSN, don’t use it for other passwords, and try to keep your passwords as unique as possible. Thanks for letting me rant.

Hardware support – heat issues

My computer has begun having heat issues. I haven’t noticed any preformance problems yet, but this evening it began to smell faintly of the magic smoke they put in computers (if ever this smoke leaves a chip, it smells bad and the chip stops working). I don’t think anything important broke, but I’d like to stop this problem before it gets worse. Currently, I have the side of the case off, and a desk fan blowing into it. What can I do as a more permanent solution? I removed the plastic curvy piece that directs the big cooling fan on the back to the CPU, so the desk fan can reach the CPU. Should I put that back? I could take out the parts I’m not using (floppy drive, firewire card, and 56k modem), but they don’t generate much heat (the main heat sources are the two GeForce2 video cards and the Pentium 4 CPU). I don’t want to install a cooling system that uses something besides air. I don’t want to buy a new case. I would be willing to install more fans, if someone can tell me where they should go and how to install them (I am comfortable soldering stuff if necessary). By removing the side of the case, have I made the airflow worse?

The case currently has 4 fans: one on the power supply, one in the back with the curvy plastic onto the CPU (which has another directly on top of it), and one on the heat sink on one of the GeForce2s.

My apartment does not have air conditioning, and when I’m not here I close and lock the doors (there are no windows in the main room; just 2 doors), so that when I come home it is uncomfortably hot and stuffy, even for me. I’d like to keep my computer running when I’m not home, because I sometimes SSH in to it to get files. Any help would be appreciated.

News is far overdue

First off, there has been a huge backlash against Facebook in the two days since they unveiled their new creepy stalker newsfeed. The group I linked to yesterday already has the membership of about 5% of all of Facebook (and that includes all the Chipotle Burritos, Case Dorms, and residents of Guttlesohn Falls that are signed up, too). This has even prompted many newspapers to take notice. It’s pretty cool to watch so many people actually stand up and protest for what they want.

Having said that, the big news today is that President Bush finally admitted to having a network of secret CIA prisons scattered around the world. I have posted about rumors of these before. It’s pretty discouraging to find that they were true, but slightly hopeful that enough people within the CIA and elsewhere in the government are beginning to stand up and say that this really should stop. edit: Bush went so far as to say that prisoners would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay and given rights from the Geneva Conventions.

Speaking of people getting fed up with unpopular polities, the Democrats tried to have a vote of no confidence on Donald Rumsfeld. It was blocked by Republicans, but at least they’re starting to fight back. For too long have the Democrats just rolled over and let the Republicans do whatever they want. I hope this is a sign of things to come. This comes in the wake of a very controversial speech by Rumsfeld, in which he drew parallels between terrorism today and fascism in the 1930’s, and then attacked Amnesty International (the first group to condemn the secret CIA prisons) for questioning the US. The government tried to censor news agencies that reported on this speech, but they have held strong on their articles.

It’s pretty cool to see everyone starting to wake up and fight back against all of this stuff!

On a less uplifting note, the truce in Darfur is being threatened. I apparently missed when this truce began; does anyone else remember hearing about thata few months ago? The problem here, like in Lebanon until recently (I’ll get to that soon) is that the UN has no actual power, and the countries that make up the UN are reluctant to contribute troops voluntarily (and China, Russia, and India are already arming the fighters).

Going back to less recent news, Europe has committed troops to keeping the peace in Lebanon and attempting to disarm Hezbollah. Both Israel and Hezbollah (and their benefactor, Iran) seem to be claiming victory here: Israel for getting the UN to pledge to try to disarm Hezbollah, and Hezbollah for firing so many rockets and killing so many civilians and not being completely destroyed (yet) in response. I am ever hopeful that the Middle East can settle down, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen until the UN gets a concrete plan to disarm Hezbollah (and then solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they’ve at least made a little headway here already).

Security guru and all-around awesome dude Bruce Schneier has a pretty rational look at the liquid explosives plot to blow up British airplanes bound for the US (which led to a US ban on liquids; special thanks to Natalie for the link). He mentions some very good points about the futility of our current strategy and how using more investigation and intelligence will work much better than our current strategy of banning everything and making everyone scared. Among other methods, he suggests that watching body language to find nervous, suspicious-acting characters is much more effective than banning liquids or shoes. This reminds me of a 2002 debacle in which airport security forced a woman to drink her own breast milk to “prove” that it was not a terrorist weapon. Although the current rules make exceptions for breast milk, medicine, and a couple other things, the entire situation is ridiculous.

Due to the UN’s hesitation on sanctioning Iran, the US is considering unilateral sanctions instead. Because, you know, unilateral sanctions have worked so well with Cuba. I suspect this is just empty talk, but it’s the sort of thing the Bush Administration is just crazy enough to try anyway.

Right. I think that’s about all the news I’ve been meaning to post. I can now close about 20 Firefox tabs.

Facebook Members Only

(special thanks to rubixsqube for alerting me to this) If you’re on Facebook and don’t like their creepy new “news feed” (which basically gives you a list of all changes in all your friends’ profiles, group memberships, relationships, &c), consider joining this group in protest. When I found it (about 15 minutes ago), it had just over 76,000 members. It has already broken 80,000 members. I hope this sends a pretty strong message to the Facebook Powers That Be.

After a great afternoon/evening with Mike, Michael, Kenny, and John (during which we had sushi, went minigolfing, and watched a really fucked up movie), I have spent the past 2.5 hours trying to help my erstwhile frosh, Steven, install Gaim-LaTeX on his new Ubuntu system. The worst part? It still doesn’t work after all this effort. We have been hacking the files together, which involved manually copying files into /usr/include and /usr/lib/pkgconfig, as well as editing config.h, just to get the damn thing to compile. Now, it’s compiled and gaim recognizes it as a valid plugin, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. How frustrating! Unfortunately, apt-get doesn’t seem to have a package for Gaim-LaTeX, which is why we’re trying to do this by hand. Any idea what might be wrong? Does anyone know how to get Gaim to print out debugging information about this sort of thing?

A Working Stove

So, to relight the pilot lights on my stove, I believe all the Roberts Management Company needed to do is send someone out with a pipe cleaner to clean the internet^M^M series of tubes and then relight my pilot lights, and I’d guess that would take 10-15 minutees. Instead, they decided to replace my entire stove. I now have a brand new Frigidaire gas stove and oven, with electric starters (and therefore no need of pilot lights), and it seems to work. This solution certainly works, but it was more hassle for everyone and much more expensive for them. but I’m not going to complain any more. Companies can be so silly at times!

The definitive guide to ‘high tea’ etymology (note that in a few months, the correct link will be here).