The Longest Now

A fully operational time machine
Tuesday July 26th 2011, 7:27 pm
Filed under: indescribable,null,Uncategorized

Greg Brainos, Raleigh-area comic and Norrin Radd acolyte, recently posted on the Raleigh Craigslist looking for male time travellers with male friends.  He tweeted about it a few days ago, and got 100 calls and two radio interviews about it before the Time Lords Craig pulled the ad.  The sketchy details gave it a certain appeal to… people who might take it seriously.

Date: 2011-07-20, 3:07PM EDT


I have successfully built a working time machine and need a human test subject that is willing to be the first person to ever travel back in time.

Due to the dimensions of the machine, you must be shorter than 6’3″ and weigh less than 230 lbs. Also, you must be male. That’s not due to the dimensions of the machine, it’s just a personal thing. I think a man should be the first to time travel, just like he was the first to fly an airplane and to walk on the moon.

The pay is $3,000 and, of course, you’ll reap the benefits of being the first person to ever travel back in time (media coverage, endorsements, etc.). You will have to sign a waiver that mainly states:

1. I am not responsible for anything that happens to you when you time travel.
2. You are forbidden from interfering in matters that would disrupt the current timeline (i.e. killing Hitler, warning Hitler about D-Day, etc.).
3. You are not allowed to travel back in time for the purposes of tearing up this waiver before it’s been signed, thereby negating this waiver you’re about to sign. I built a time machine, I’m no moron.

As far as the danger of time traveling in this machine, we sent a dog into the past yesterday and it went off without a hitch. He hasn’t yet returned, but that’s just because animals don’t know how to rendezvous. We would like for you to bring him back, if at all possible.

Lastly, you will need three personal references. I can’t take a chance sending some unscrupulous druggie into the past because you’ll mess everything up for us here in the present. The references must be male. Again, it’s just a personal thing.

If you would like to participate, call me on my cell phone <###>


For most, I ask whether they’re calling from past or future. They say, ‘Present.’ I say, ‘Nevermind, it obviously didn’t work.’ “


Google to cancel its translate API, citing ‘extensive abuse’
Saturday May 28th 2011, 10:19 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,Not so popular,null,wikipedia

Google’s APIs Product Manager Adam Feldman announced on Thursday they will cancel the Google translate API by December, without replacing it, and that all use of it will be throttled until then.  Any reusers or libraries relying on the translate API to programmatically provide a better multilingual experience will have to switch over to another translation service.  (Some simple services will still be available to users, such as, but APIs will not be available to developers of other sites, libraries, or services.)

Update: As of June 3, Google says that in response to the outcry, they plan to make a paid version of the translate API available. No details yet on what that will look like.

Ouch.  This is a sudden shift, both from their strong earlier support for this API (I was personally encouraged to use it for applications by colleagues at Google), and from their standing policy of supporting deprecated services for up to 3 years.   What could have spooked them?  Why the rush? As of today, the Translate API page reads:

The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011. Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011.

Most disappointing to me is the way this announcement was released: buried in a blog post full of minor “Spring Cleaning” updates to a dozen other APIs.  Most of the other deprecated APIs were replaced by reasonable equivalents or alternatives, and were being maintained indefinitely with limits on the rate of requests per user.  None of them is being cancelled within six months, and none of them are half as widely used!

I hope that this obfuscation was an unintentional oversight.  There have been 170 irate replies to that post so far, almost all about the Translate API cancellation.  But it has been three days already without any significant update from Feldman or any mention of the change on the Google Translate blog.  Google’s response to a ZDNet inquiry was that they have no further information to provide on why they made this decision.


Happy Passover~
Monday April 18th 2011, 7:59 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,null,poetic justice,Uncategorized

As we did last year, we are working from a remix of the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah (now v. 7.1) – with some quotes, songs, and anecdotes of our own.  We will endeavour to live up to Hezekiah’s standard for a memorable feast.

Random Hacks of Kindness — hacking subverted?
Thursday February 03rd 2011, 7:00 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,null,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

RHOK has a great name (if only an OK acronym) and sweet mandate: hacking to save the world. They work with Crisis Commons and other grassroots groups, organizing physical meetings to hack for two days with a competition theme (prizes for the best hacks). Great, right?

But is this a meme whose time has come, that’s been subverted by people who aren’t hackers? How will it change over time? The proof may be in the results, but the corporate firepower lined up behind this project, and the vagueness of how its organizing takes place, make me wonder. From a recent NPR piece on the project:

Patrick Svenburg, a director for Microsoft and a co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, says it was a little risky at first.

“We threw all cautions to the wind, and we got a little group of people together in November of 2009 at the first hackathon in Silicon Valley,” he says. “About 100 people showed up. I didn’t get fired; nobody got fired. It was a nice experiment.”

Indeed. More than 20 cities took part in RHOK #2, so let’s hope it continues to thrive.

on systemic bias
Monday November 01st 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: indescribable,null,popular demand,Uncategorized

Awesome in at least three different ways.

Wikipedia researchers wanted!
Monday May 04th 2009, 8:21 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics,null,wikipedia

Do you know people who are currently doing statistical and social research about Wikipedia, or have good ideas about this they haven’t had time to work on?

I’m trying to build support for continual, detailed statistics generation from Wikipedia data, possibly at the Harvard-MIT Data Center.  There is still time to come up with good ideas for lightning talks and discussion groups at Wikimania 2009 this summer in Buenos Aires.  And there is a research-related Wikimedia job available starting this summer.

I am uncomfortable with many of the details of said job posting*, but as long as its up the best people should apply.


Lackaff on the enormity of 15c mesoamerican destruction
Sunday September 07th 2008, 8:50 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,null,Too weird for fiction

I ran across Lackaff‘s pithy blog again tonight, and was touched by this quote about the enormity of our species’s loss after the destruction of mesoamerican civilization.

I also discovered a good alternate use to my next-door-street‘s name.

Myths of lists and linear fame
Friday August 25th 2006, 5:46 am
Filed under: null

A good read about myths online, readership, popularity, and the results.  Nick Carr’s bit on the Great Unread, presenting what I see as the slightly-off worldview, is nevertheless excellent writing.  The recurring blog discussions on the topic, with their tinge of hysteira and self-absorption, are representative of a special flavor of our decade.  I wouldn’t dream of anyone seriously claiming that today we don’t have access to digital printing presses onlnie — until  I had seen it for the first time.  (I suppose those doing so have only the rosiest ideas about what happens when you put together the text for a document and fire up your press and then have to go out and try distributing the results.)

In other news :  is amazing.
And Superman loves wikis.  Go Supe!

Myths of lists and linear fame …

Persimmon forecast : Rita locally a Category 0
Saturday September 24th 2005, 3:27 pm
Filed under: null

Our persimmons in Houston
are heavy, and fall off in the slightest gust of wind. Any serious
storm is enough to ruin the year’s crop. None fell off this morning; it
was just like a strong thunderstorm
Elsewhere : sporadic trees and branches were down elsewhere in the
city, with a localized gust of 70mph; one high-rise lost a few windows; 300,000
are without electricity.

too, was largely untouched.  East Texas had it worst; but Beaumont
escaped destruction.  No towns were flattened, or even mauled;
though some houses lost roofs and some buildings suffered heavy damage.

On the other hand, there was extensive highway gridlock,
with people on the roads for over 24 hours; some deaths from
heatstroke, many people running out of gas b/c of the stalled traffic
and leaving on their A/C in the 100-degree heat. I wonder if people used up the breakdown lanes…  Yesterday at
6pm, there were still people stranded on the road w/o gas, despite many
locals (in addition to official FEMA efforts) making sorties to bring gas and food to those poor souls.  Here is a typical evac experience from Dwight.

unofficial evacuation orders were too broad (‘everyone in the hundred
year flood plain!’), too thorough (‘everyone get out of the city’
rather than ‘everyone get to higher ground’), and too individualist
(‘everyone to his/her own car!’).

The standard evac orders were fine — here is the canonical Galveston/Houston evacuation map.
Note that even the “C” evacuation zones, for Category 4/5 hurricanes,
only come into Houston as far as the East 610 Loop (to which point the
ship channel extends).  However,

  • The orders were also amazingly persistent :  ‘ALTHOUGH
    times, even after the originally hoped-for acceleration didn’t happen.
  • Complementary orders were not given (if you are in the following safe zones, STAY OFF THE HIGHWAY)
  • “Evacuation” was not well-defined.  Do you have to drive 3
    hours out of the city?  Is it enough to get to places within city
    limits, where there is much more highway space?
  • Extra mandatory evacuation orders were made up on the fly. 
    Whoops!  The mayor has tried to write it off as a slip of the
    tongue, but many officials made it.   “If you live in a
    flood-prone area…” — Houston, Pearland, and others issued such
    warnings.  Since the 2001 flood affected many areas that had never
    flooded before, this worried many people who had nothing to fear from
    flooding thanks to Rita… the city had been parched for two weeks, and
    its bayous were empty.

When you tell people to stop trusting their own judgment and to
trust yours, you suddenly have an enormously greater responsibility to
care for them…

Houston evacuation begins
Wednesday September 21st 2005, 10:04 pm
Filed under: null

As of 6pm CST tonight, mandatory evacuations are in effect for “Zone A”
of Harris County.  Mandatory evacuations of Zones B and C will
follow as of 6am tomorrow. (notice)

Our house in Houston falls under the ‘suggested evacuation’ list, because it is in a low-lying area.

Rita is getting progressively stronger — currently
passing over a warm-water region that fed the last surge in Katrina’s
strength — and likely to exceed expectations of its strength.  See Jeff Master’s weather blog for more depressing coverage. 

And freenode is relocating, too; hopefully a temporary business.

Houston evacuation begins …

Spitting on the dead : too good for them
Monday September 05th 2005, 7:26 pm
Filed under: null

An increasingly neglected minority in the United States has gotten some
of the worst of the latest storming, flooding, infection and
dehydration deaths, largely overlooked by the press : the newly

An unspecified number of corpses in the Superdome were left there for
days.  Others were seen floating through the water by what seems
to be an entire regiment of amateur and professional reporters and
support staff.  People working with the dead feel the need to
justify their efforts — “Families need to know what happened to the people they lose,says
one Dr. Senn, a forensic dentist from San Antonio, in a Katrina-related
interview.  I hadn’t realized leaving the dead to rot in anonymity
had become a community-lifestyle choice.

thousands of bloated corpses”… “corpses lay abandoned in street medians”… “corpses have been sighted on porches, sidewalks and flooded streets”… “we’re
not even dealing with dead bodies”… “floating in canals, slumped in
wheelchairs, abandoned on highways and medians and hidden in attics”…

Even in a city bereft of order and shepherds, there are always alternatives
Even a gob of tobacco spit on a dead man’s face is a reminder that
someone saw fit to walk right up and leave a remembrance. 
Abandoning bodies to float and decay at will, even those of strangers,
is worse ignominy still.  Have we forgotten what it means to honor the dead?

Reading about the Great Galveston Hurricane reminds me that this has
often been the result of disasters; I wonder how that has played out in
other countries and times.   Certainly the 1900 Galveston
disaster, with 2 corpses per rescue worker, was a very different story
than the latest NO disaster, with a ratio of more like 1:10.

Never entrust anything priceless to a black box
Monday September 05th 2005, 7:04 pm
Filed under: null

Never trust infrastructure that doesn’t provide rapid feedback —
automatic, world-readable feedback where appropriate.  Not with
anything invaluable.

Not with your life; not with critical contingency plans; and for God’s sake, not with your children or your mother’s life.

Never entrust anything priceless to a black box …

Saturday May 28th 2005, 5:03 am
Filed under: null

An old friend from another life died last month; brilliant, brave, full of remarkable dreams. Unrealized dreams. I hardly knew what to think at the time; we hadn’t been in touch for years. But in the weeks since I have despaired of it; I have lost myself. It has preyed on my thoughts, in a way my grandfather’s death, and even my father’s, have not.

I am not a person afraid of mortality. Death is a beautiful part of life; without constraints, freedom and art cannot flourish and find expression; without the stricture of language, we would have no spaceships. Yet there are shades of death… Recently I have slept dreamlessly, eight hours at a time, something I rarely do. There are those who might say this is healthy for anyone. I wake up each morning feeling refreshed; but as soon as I open my eyes, I feel a twinge of senseless fear which only exercise can suppress.

It is too strong and insistent to be simply fear for myself — for who am I? — but fear for continuity, for those I love, for the dreams I cherish. Or is it something beyond that? All I know is that for a while I had to resort to external hints to distinguish one day from the next; I held onto receipts, reviwed my posting and edit histories, sorted my papers and problemsets by last edit, simply to remember what I had been thinking the day (the meal!) before.

In the process I discovered two things: Wikaddiction is stronger than dirt (surely tapping the same primal urges that fuel Verant‘s success), and memorization is successful even when done as a background process. The last point I knew, but had all but forgotten.

I have neglected posting, and many of you. If I owe you apologies or regrets, please trust that I will send them. I have a small list of names here, and am working through them in roughly alphabetical order.

The misery of long weekends
Tuesday February 22nd 2005, 7:55 pm
Filed under: null

Taking off for a long weekend in an attempt to relax may sound wise, but in practice is generally a Bad Idea. To do it properly requires is far too expensive, and to do it poorly just wastes a few perfectly good days. Please remind me of this the next time one comes around, and sabotage my helicopter if necessary. Now I have a project draft to finish by tomorrow, and I’m not looking forward to it. And a book to finish. There’s no way I’m sleeping tonight. And tomorrow… I’m adjusting my diet, just in case.

the defeated nomenclature
Thursday February 17th 2005, 2:21 pm
Filed under: null

While reading up on international 50-year ”’identities”’ the other day, and thinking about how fundamental names are (even in this post-biblical and post-$10M domain-name purchase era), it occurred to me that I should take more seriously the matter of preemptive name-conflation.

I keep running across other SJ’s on the web (some of whom don’t even know how to pluralize or punctuate “SJ“), so I thought I’d just clear up some of my private identity crisis by keeping tabs on them all. After an early on-wiki attempt to do this, I realized there were enough instances to warrant a separate story on the issue. I hear some people have entire sites devoted to people with their name… but that seems like overkill.

If you find (or ARE) a particularly compelling version of me out in the rest of the world, ping me and I’ll update the list. I think the only reason I never did this before was my abiding shame that a nutrition doctor name Samuel Klein was vastly more popular than I… but his clever SEO schemes could only hold out for so long.

Google HACKED ?!
Sunday January 30th 2005, 7:48 pm
Filed under: null

Somewhere between my machine and Google [and a whole chunk of domain
names], something in the vicinity of DNS went wrong.  I
don’t know how widely or by whom or since when, but since yesterday
night, I haven’t been able to access any of a wide variety of google
IPs from my machine without an explicit entry in my hosts file. worked, for instance, but,,,,, etc. have not. 
Neither hotmail, aim, gmail…

The annonying thing about maintaining my own hosts entry for google is
that it changes… worked earlier today, but now it
doesn’t.  Right now I’m using, a subtle
difference.  Now google itself works, but if I accidentally follow
a link to, my browser times out unless I actively ping and then insert a new line for it into my hosts file..  What’s going on?  Clearly DNS itself is working, since ping and whois can resolve their IP addresses…

Google HACKED ?! …

The Dust of Time
Saturday December 11th 2004, 6:21 am
Filed under: null

Two men came to repair my kitchen ceiling yesterday morning. 
Second time in three years that ceiling had to be fixed.  Last
time it was a professional, three-day job.  This time it was a
hack job, two days of patchwork followed
by a week of half-finished ceiling and another day of patchwork. 
Now the ceiling looks like a failed home-deco experiment, with seams
where the repair took place, but you have to look twice to notice.

These men were two of the laziest people I have ever met in the confines of a city
They moved slowly, came to decisions slowly, talked slowly except when
yelling at high volume (and even then the process of argument was slow,
only the words were staccato and fast).  Their tools never worked, and they had to leave on two occasions to buy replacements from a hardware store three miles away.

They also had no common sense, so perhaps retiring to the countryside
wouldn’t solve all of their problems.  They started work with a
tiny tarp and no ventilation… and began to sand.  No wait, they
opened the basement door for ventilation.  They turned on a fan
while sanding (“to blow the dust towards the wall”), and got a fine
layer of plaster-dust all over the room and the one next to it before I
stopped them. 

Meanwhile, a friend’s apartment complex in central square burned terribly,
damaging many of his things..  I remember the last time there was
a big fire in that part of town in an apartment complex…  it was
just across the road from Upton St where I was living, and I happened
to miss it by being out of town.

How easy it would be to lose everything.  I think of the hundreds
of years of labour put into building beautiful monuments, opulent
houses, glorious fortifications, which were later targeted not even for
theft and recycling, but for destruction,
because of their quality.  And of the millions of years put into
building beautiful biomes, life-forms, other crystallizations of order, which are inevitably disintegrated, wiped out, crushed into the simple chaos of their component parts.

Our world is built on such layers of dust.

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