I guess *anything* can go viral

I didn’t know that GitHub let people post comments on individual commits to a source code repository. And I certainly didn’t know one of those commits could go viral and wind up with a couple hundred comments filled with image macros. At least, until I stumbled upon this commit fixing a bug that deleted everything in /usr.

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Fun with lax input parsing

This is what happens when your handwriting recognition engine insists on interpreting anything the user scribbles with the stylus as an integer. (Warning: do not use this video as a study guide for arithmetic.)

This is what happens when you’re too lenient when your function for fuzzy matching on strings is a little too fuzzy. (Warning: some NSFW language.)

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Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14, i.e. 3-14. Indiana, however, once came close to celebrating it on 3-20 exactly.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The text of the 1897 bill doesn’t come out and say it directly, and it gives several different derivations of pi, none of which are consistent with each other. Values include pi = 3.2, pi = 4, and pi = 16√2 / 7 ≈ 3.23. Who would have thought the mathematical crank who came up with it didn’t check his work?

The intro of the bill is also interesting, and tends to get overlooked in discussions about it:

A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897.

The crank behind the bill apparently planned on trying to collect royalties on the “correct” value(s) of pi, after giving Indiana a royalty-free license. Of course, this is nonsense, since you can’t copyright, trademark, or patent a fact, so there’s no way you can compel anyone to pay you royalties for it. Passing a bill to grant a state royalty-free access to a fact that isn’t even true is completely stupid in two independent ways.

Needless to say, it passed the Indiana House unanimously before getting shelved in the Indiana Senate, demonstrating the cluelessness of Indiana’s elected officials in both mathematics and intellectual property law. If not for the intervention of a Purdue mathematics professor, Indiana students today might be making funny-shaped circles to comply with state law.

The whole ordeal made the Indiana government a laughingstock, and since then all state governments have been careful to consult with experts before taking action to reject basic facts. Oh, wait.

School laptop spycams

In case you’ve heard about the school-issued laptops that surreptitiously took webcam photos of the students using them and are wondering just how something like that works, here’s the technical details of what the school-installed spyware was doing.

Who’s Copying Me Now?: Robot Edition

I scooped Colbert:

Never forget.

Next time: a blog post that has nothing to do with sex robots. Hopefully.

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ur doin it wrong: Robot Edition

There’s a lot wrong with this story in Sunday’s edition of the Baltimore Sun about sex robots. I mean other than the fact that it’s inexplicably filed under the “Michael Jackson” subcategory in the Entertainment section, or that one of the entries in the topic list for the story is “children”.

No, the real WTF starts with the very first sentence:

A New Jersey company says it has developed “the world’s first sex robot,” a life-size rubber doll that’s designed to engage the owner with conversation rather than lifelike movement.

I don’t think the developer understands the concept of a “sex robot”.

It has touch sensors at strategic locations and can sense when it’s being moved. But it can’t move on its own, not even to turn its head or move its lips. The sound comes out of an internal loudspeaker.

Correction: I don’t think the developer understands the concept of a “robot”. It can’t even move? I know Wikipedia’s discussion of the defining characteristics of a robot doesn’t require the ability to move, but that just demonstrates how Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity. Touch sensors and speakers in a squick-inducing chassis do not a robot make. This just sounds like a creepy computer peripheral. Surely there must be more to it than–

[...] there’s a laptop connected to cables coming out of its back.

Or you could just not bother trying to hide it. That works too, I guess.

“Sex only goes so far — then you want to be able to talk to the person,” Hines said.

So that’s the order, then. I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

A Japanese company, Honey Dolls, makes life-size sex dolls that can play recorded sounds, but Roxxxy’s sensors and speech capabilities appear to be more sophisticated.

I never had any idea the U.S. was beating Japan in both robotics and perversion.

CAUTION: Do not imbibe a beverage while reading the following excerpt, unless you feel like doing a spit take on your keyboard.

An engineer, Hines said he was inspired to create the robot after a friend died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I love how the article’s author throws in the appositive to justify the thought process involved. “Why would 9/11 inspire him to make a sex robot?” “He’s an engineer.” “Oh, that makes sense.”

That got him thinking about preserving his friend’s personality, to give his children a chance to interact with him as they’re growing up. Looking around for commercial applications for artificial personalities, he initially thought he might create a home health care aide for the elderly.

“But there was tremendous regulatory and bureaucratic paperwork to get through. We were stuck,” Hines said. “So I looked at other markets.”

In other words, 9/11 + bureaucracy = sex robots.

Come to think of it, however, we should make an effort to distribute this article wherever Al Qaeda is operating. Once they understand that one of the effects of terror attacks against the U.S. is increased innovation in sex robots, they’re bound to give up. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Watch this

With The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on hiatus this week, you may be running low on sequences of still images shown in rapid succession to give the illusion of motion, synchronized with low- to mid-frequency atmospheric vibrations. Allow me to help alleviate this problem.

The fourth season of The Venture Bros. (aka one of the greatest animated anythings ever) started on Sunday. Here’s the trailer, and here’s Season 4 Episode 1. Of course, you’ll probably need to watch the first three seasons to understand what’s going on, but that’s what DVDs are for. (Colbert junkie bonus: he voices Professor Impossible in the first two seasons!)

Keeping with the animation theme, Tripod recently introduced me to YuGiOh – The Abridged Series, which is much funnier than I was expecting. It’s a gag dub of an anime about a children’s card game and ended up launching loads of imitators. Luckily, you won’t need any familiarity with the source material… in America! Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Finally, there’s That Guy With The Glasses‘s stuff on the eponymous thatguywiththeglasses.com. His Video Game Confessions series was what I first game across (learning the shocking truth behind Ms. Pac-Man, and more than I really needed to know about Link and Zelda’s “understanding”), but most of That Guy’s stuff is worth watching too. Be warned, however, that stuff from the other contributors is hit or miss.

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And you thought your network was slow

RFC 1149, “A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers”, describes how to use carrier pigeons to send Internet traffic between two sites. It was originally published as a joke (note the date on the document), and although there has been a proof-of-concept implementation of RFC 1149, namely using carrier pigeons to ping another computer, it understandably hasn’t seen widespread use.

Unless, perhaps, you live in South Africa, in which case it might be a more viable option than the conventional Internet service providers available:

Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km (50 miles) from Unlimited IT’s offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.

Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds — the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.

[Pigeon transfers data faster than South Africa’s Telkom, Reuters, 10 September 2009]

Of course, this isn’t too surprising. After all, a snail pulling a cart with two DVDs for wheels has a faster average data transfer rate than an ADSL connection.

Granted, pigeon- and snail-based layer 2 technologies suffer from pretty sluggish latency, so they’re often not the best option for running your network. You’re generally going to be off using a cat or 5 instead.

[Hat tip to The Risks Digest, volume 25, issue 78, for the South Africa story.]

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4,096 ought to be enough for anybody

Other than pointing out that the fault lies primarily with how Adobe’s programmers don’t know how to do anything efficiently on non-Windows platforms except crash the browser, I can personally verify that today’s xkcd is 100% accurate. Including the mouse-over text, and the fact that the kernel patch mentioned in the comic indeed exists.

Your daily dose of distraction

First: in case you ever complained that Mega Man 2 didn’t have enough rap in it, here you go [thanks to Josh for alerting me to this]:

(Their Final Fantasy rap is also pretty good, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Next: in case you ever complained that Super Mario World didn’t have enough stuff-happening-even-though-you’re-too-lazy-to-press-any-of-the-buttons, take a look at this ROM hack:

Even with the level-editing tools that are out there, it’s impressive to imagine how much work must’ve gone into the level design to pull that off.

Finally, it’s unfortunate that I hadn’t been reading MS Paint Adventures until now. It’s what you’d get if you crossed a webcomic with an old-school adventure game. Is it weird if what’s sold me on it is how the character’s inventory system in the current “game” is explicitly based on a stack implemented in a circular buffer? And how it’s suggested it’s possible to upgrade to something more featureful:

EB: it’s so frustrating.
TG: whats your modus
EB: what?
TG: how do you retrieve artifacts from it
EB: oh. like one at a time i guess. and if i put too much in, something falls out.
TG: stack?? hahahahahaha
EB: what is yours?
TG: hash map
TG: my bro taught me a few tricks he basically knows everything and is awesome
EB: what the hell is that?
TG: you should probably brush up on your data structures

While I’d probably deque anyone who made a real game with such an obnoxious inventory system, in comic form it’s awesome. It may be the character’s birthday, but he won’t be LIFO the party with just that.* Hopefully whatever upgrades are in store will let him skip lists entirely and explore the rest of the wide array of options out there. Because dude, a stack? With that limited interface he’ll be in a heap of trouble. As What’s Her Face would say, DAG, yo.

Of course, in real life we have data structure based inventory systems too. We’re typically limited to a pair of five-element finger trees, sometimes augmented with a bag.

* Yes, I know that technically having a stack would very much make him LIFO the party almost by definition, but I’m trying to make a series of data structure puns here. If you trie it yourself, you’ll find it’s harder than it looks.

Lobbying group FAIL

If I were a lobbyist working on behalf of the tobacco industry, I’d probably wouldn’t pick a name that suggests we’re trying to sell cigarettes to children.

Apparently that makes me overqualified:

Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist representing the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, called the measure an “anti-smoking” bill and said he finds it “very troublesome.” [emphasis added]


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Death by Cliché

I probably should’ve posted about this a few weeks ago, since I’m sure a couple of you will enjoy this (especially those of you whose nickname is Tripod and/or who have heard of D&D): Death by Cliché, a free audiobook disguised as a podcast.

What’s it about? Let’s just say it includes the phrases “improvised silencer”, “flaming brassieres braziers brassieres”, “breakfast beer”, and “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!”

In that order.


(Spoiler alert: breakfast beer is what you get when you add bacon to beer. And eat drink consume it for breakfast.)

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Mother! Mother! Mother!

For all you Brawl players out there wondering where Lucas came from, you may be interested to know that the unofficial English translation of Mother 3 (i.e., the GBA sequel to EarthBound) is now out.

I’d be playing it right now, but I’m currently working through Super Paper Mario, and I don’t like playing more than one game at once. (Though I am willing to make an exception if the game is sufficiently awesome.)

This has been a public service announcement.

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Taking The Game to a new level

Finally, someone has taken the basic concept of The Game and added the one thing that was missing: brainwave scanning:

The gameboard—and premise—of Brainball is simple. The playing field sits on an orange table about the size of a typical card table. There’s a long, narrow strip of plastic running almost the length of the table with a small circular goal at either end. To play, you strap on a headband with three metal contacts and try to move the ball from the center of the table to your opponent’s goal.

Paradoxically, the key to winning a game of Brainball is trying not win. You control the ball by relaxing as much as possible; the contacts in your headband monitor your alpha and theta brainwaves. The lower the activity, the more the ball will move.

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Like Hell it Could

In case for some unfathomable reason you’re one of those people who thinks the Large Hadron Collider is going to destroy the planet (as though such a thing were that easy), there are no less than two websites you can check to see if the unthinkable (and impossible) has happened:

It always good to have multiple sources for this sort of thing, since there is some misinformation floating around out there. Plus, both of the two sites above have RSS or Atom feeds you can subscribe to, so that you’ll be notified in case the current status of the planet changes.

WARNING: Those prone to worrying about things like the end of the universe might want to avoid reading the HTML source of the first of those two links, lest they should see this:

The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has never been a cheering one to contemplate. Vacuum decay is the ultimate ecological catastrophe; in the new vacuum there are new constants of nature; after vacuum decay, not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it. However, one could always draw stoic comfort from the possibility that perhaps in the course of time the new vacuum would sustain, if not life as we know it, at least some structures capable of knowing joy. This possibility has now been eliminated.

The second special case … applies if we are now living in the debris of a false vacuum … This case presents us with less interesting physics and with fewer occasions for rhetorical excess than the preceding one.

S. Coleman and F. De Luccia (1980). “Gravitational effects on and of vacuum decay”. Physical Review D21: 3305.

Those prone to worrying about such things should probably also refrain from reading the above quote.