Ramblings & ephemera

Virtual kidnappings a problem in Mexico

From Marc Lacey’s “Exploiting Real Fears With ‘Virtual Kidnappings’ ” (The New York Times: 29 April 2008): MEXICO CITY — The phone call begins with the cries of an anguished child calling for a parent: “Mama! Papa!” The youngster’s sobs are quickly replaced by a husky male voice that means business. “We’ve got your child,” […]

Abuse of “terrorist” investigative powers

From BBC News’ “Council admits spying on family” (10 April 2008): A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council […]

Bush’s Manicheanism destroyed him

From Glenn Greenwald’s “A tragic legacy: How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency” (Salon: 20 June 2007): One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to […]

How to delete stuck files on Amazon’s S3

I use Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service) to back up files, and I also use OmniGraffle, a diagramming program, on my Mac. This is a letter I sent to OmniGraffle recently that explains a problem with the interaction of OmniGraffle and S3. Start letter: OmniGraffle (OG) is a great app, but it has a serious, […]

California’s wide-open educational software reveals personal info

From Nanette Asimov’s “Software glitch reveals private data for thousands of state’s students” (San Francisco Chronicle: 21 October 2005): The personal information of tens of thousands of California children — including their names, state achievement test scores, identification numbers and status in gifted or special-needs programs — is open to public view through a security […]

Gender, murder, & knots

From Caleb Crain’s “In Search Of Lost Crime” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2002): … the 1833 trial of Rev. Ephraim K. Avery … discovered Sarah Maria Cornell’s body hanging from a stake among his haystacks … Consider, as a final example of the pleasures to be had in trial pamphlets, the knot in the rope around […]

Wearing the wrong color to a battle

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (337, 347): [At the Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing,] The Orleans Guard battalion, the elite organization with Beauregard’s name on its muster roll, came into battle wearing dress-blue uniforms, which drew the fire of the Confederates they were marching […]

A very brief history of programming

From Brian Hayes’ “The Post-OOP Paradigm“: The architects of the earliest computer systems gave little thought to software. (The very word was still a decade in the future.) Building the machine itself was the serious intellectual challenge; converting mathematical formulas into program statements looked like a routine clerical task. The awful truth came out soon […]

The incompetent don’t know it

From “Unskilled and Unaware of It“: It seems that the reason for this phenomenon is obvious: The more incompetent someone is in a particular area, the less qualified that person is to assess anyone’s skill in that space, including their own. When one fails to recognize that he or she has performed poorly, the individual […]

Incompetent people don’t know it

From The New York Times: Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of […]

Most expensive computer error ever

From Computerworld (13 October 1997), page 76: A computer glitch at a New York brokerage causes a half-million customer accounts to be credited with $19 million each for a brief period. At $9.975 trillion ($19 million times 525,000 accounts), it’s a record for a computer error.