The good, the bad, the ugly…

– I have a new laptop–the result of an accident with the old one (Shelly tripped over the power cord, and it landed face-down, breaking rather dramatically). The new one is capable of playing World of Warcraft (bonus!). I didn’t really want to replace it right away, except…

– …spending the weekend at a trade show with a client, demoing high-end prepress software. Said client is paying rather well for the weekend–not completely enough to pay for the new laptop, but it really helps. However, this means…

– …I won’t be able to help S move this weekend. Fortunately, though, phyrra and nihilus will be helping the moving project, and speaking of which…

+ …we’ve been spending even more time with the two of them lately, which has been absolutely wonderful, and still taking tentative steps toward the idea of a romantic relationship, which is good because…

+ …it will make it that much easier to keep raiding their large and diverse library…

+ …of such books as David Brin’s Kiln People, an amazing novel and study in the nature of consciousness, identity, and non-destructive uploading…

+ …which I just finished, while in the car…

+ …on the way to St. Pete to look at a used car which we want to get for Shelly, which is cheap and in perfect condition…

– …but won’t be available ’til the third week of April. This means three months of waking up way too early to drive her to work. Today, her trip was particularly early, because…

+ …Snow Crash is at the vet getting neutered today. I have to pick him up this evening, after I…

– …get a rental car…

+ …which my client is paying for, for the trip to Orlando. The only downside is…

– …the client wants me there at eight AM.

Life, she is a mixed bag, you see.

When good companies go bad: how Google learned to stop worrying and love spam

Okay. So, Google’s founders have an unofficial slogan, which is a part of Google’s genetic DNA: Don’t be evil. Nice idea, that; do well and do good.

But in my experience, “don’t be evil” has become more of…well, a suggestion than a statement of corporate policy. No, I’m not talking about the way Google records information about searches or how the Goolge toolbar inserts paid links into other people’s Web sites–frankly, I don’t care about any of that.

I’m talking about something different: spam. And the fact that Google likes it.

Oh, now I’m not suggesting Google engages in spam itself; when you’re Google, you don’t need to spam. Everyone uses you anyway. I’m talking about the fact that Google supports spammers. And it’s not even a question of supporting spammers for profit, like Savvis does, or allowing people to host spam software, like MCI Worldcom does, or allowing people to host virus and malware droppers, like Peer 1 does. What those companies do is reprehensible, of course, but it’s also understandable: they profit directly from it. The spammers give them cash, they look the other way (or in Savvis’ case, actually help shield the spammers).

No, Google supports spammers, but doesn’t even do it for profit. Google supports spammers because it simply can’t be bothered to hire anyone to do anything about it.

The entire net abuse community shuddered when Google took over Deja News and started Google Groups. Google, of course, insisted that Google Groups would serve a valuable function, and would not be used by spammers; they set up an abuse address, they promised that spammers would not be tolerated, and so on, and so on.

Now, a few years later, it seems that Google’s motto has changed from “Don’t be evil’ to “Don’t bother.”

Google Groups has become, as many people predicted, a wretched hive of scum and spammers. I’ve personally seen more spam coming from Google Groups in the past few months than from any other single newsgroup source in the world–Google has dethroned the previous reigning champions of UseNet spam (,, and in the sheer volume of spew and in their stubborn refusal to stem the tide. In just the past few hours, I’ve collected some nuggets of Google’s outstanding offerings to the Internet community here

God bless the Internet

[name withheld]: So what is polyamory? You get to fuck whoever you want?
tacitr: Not exactly. Polyamory is not about fucking anyone you want; it’s the practice of maintaining multiple simultaneous long-term, committed romantic relationships.
tacitr: It’s about relationships (which may or may not be sexual), rather than about sex.
[name withheld]: okay
[name withheld]: Do you have a picture of your cock?


World of Warcraft Madness!

World of Warcraft is actually quite a lovely game. Blizzard has done a good job with the “look” of the game, not trying for photorealism but not cartoony either. These images (rather old; my character is significantly higher level now) come from a low-end video card without advanced texture or shader support; on a higher-end system, the visuals are even better.

I love the atmospherics; the environments they’ve created are both exceptionally diverse and quite pleasing to look at.


And in other news…

…damn nihilus for being interesting, anyway.

Shelly and I have been spending a lot of time with phyrra and nihilus these days, often until ridiculous hours. We’ve settled into a kind of pattern; Shelly and phyrra do girl-type stuff like dying their hair, nihilus and I work on our laptops on the couch, and occasionally nihilus looks up to say something interesting about database architecture or the physics of zero-point energy or the history of early Gnosticism. That usually starts a conversation that ends with me taking home a book from their library on, oh, the history of Gnosticism or some such thing, which I get sucked into, and dammit, I don’t have time, y’know?

Then after that we watch Lexx or Farscape, and stuff.

Speaking of Farscape…you’d think the Peacekeepers, who belong to a species that is extremely sensitive to and intolerant of temperatures above eighty degrees or so, would develop climate-controlled space suits, since it does little good to have turned your entire civilization into a great lumbering war machine if your elite crack special forces can be stopped from boarding an enemy vessel when the people aboard that vessel…turn up the heat. But I digress.

Last weekend was the annual St. Patrick’s Day party hosted by khepra and fangly. On the entertainment menu was a rather bizarre movie called “Immortal,” a French flick in English, on a Russian DVD, about a future society that’s Blade Runner meets Fifth Element with a dash of Tetsuo the Iron Man thrown in for good measure, and the arrival of an Egyptian god, and a blue-haired chick who can read minds, and…well, it’s kind of complicated. Anyway, turns out it’s based on a French graphic novel…which happens to be in nihilus‘s library. Kinda figures, really.

Some late night thoughts about the nature of money

Gah. It’s late, and I can’t sleep ’cause I’m waiting for Shelly to get home from work, so let’s talk money.

Exhibit A: One of my clients, a large, publicly-traded corporation that makes custom uniforms and apparel, primarily for the hospital and tech industries. They make those weird-looking bunny suits that chip manufacturers use in cleanrooms, that sort of thing. They have manufacturing and warehousing facilities in five states, thousands of employees, and brought in a tad over $130 million dollars in 2003, with net profits after expenses and tax of approximately $5 million. A huge, successful business.

Exhibit B: A tiny, privately held company occupying one office not far from my client’s corporate headquarters, employing less than twenty people, running an online Internet dating Web site. They bring in, oh, around $66 million a month, give or take. Roughly five times what my client makes, in other words. And almost all of it’s profit.

Wall Street doesn’t like the “adult” industry, of course. I don’t believeany porn or sex-toy companies arepublicly traded, and I have to wonder what the Fortune 500 might look like if it listed sex-related businesses. Wal-Mart would probably still top the list,ofcourse, butI suspect after that things might get interesting.

Money doesn’t work the way people think it does. Take lawyers who work on commission, for example. (Please!) Now, if you’re injured in a car wreck and you’re suing someone’s insurance company, you might think that the lawyer who works on commission will get you the best possible settlement, because his financial interests are tied to yours. After all, the more money he winds for you in the settlement, the more money he gets, right?

Wrong. You’re not his only client. He has thousands of other clients, in an unending stream. That changes the equation.

Suppose he can put in an hour working on your case, and get the insurance company to offer you an $8,000 settlement. Or, he can work 15 hours on your case, and win an $80,000 settlement for you. What’s he gonna do? He’s gonna try to talk you into settling for $8,000. Why?

Well, let’s say he works 45 hours a week. If all his clients take the paltry $8,000 settlement, he’s brought in a grand total of $320,000 in settlements in a week. If all his clients get $80,000 settlements, he’s only brought in $240,000 in that week. Which would you rather have–a percentage of $320,000 or the same percentage of $240,000? It’s a no-brainer. He wants maximum income per hour worked, which means…you get the chump change, chump.

On a more personal front, the Chinese government is still doing everything in its collective power to make my life complicated. Certain old-guard factions in the Communist Party in China still oppose with all the spirit they can muster from their feeble and ancient bodies any attempt to drag China into the seedy, dirty world of capitalism and free enterprise, and are continuing to block the Chinese venture capital firm that wants to invest in another client of mine, even though the rest of the Chinese government has given the deal the official go-ahead. As a result, my client can’t pay me (or indeed anyone else), and as a result of that, my client and I are still in limbo with regards to the move to Atlanta. So we’re here in Tampa for at least the next six months or so, while my client’s representative flies back and forth between here and Beijing on an almost weekly basis, trying to discover whatever voodoo black magic is going to be necessary to get the money out of China. In other words, it’s just business as usual for my life.

And in today’s news…

…an 18-year-old Kentucky student is sitting in prison on “terrorist’ charges for writing a short story for English class in which zombies overrun a school. The police detective in the case, one Steven Caudill, apparently doesn’t realize that the legions of the Undead aren’t in fact actually real, and said “Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it’s a felony in the state of Kentucky.”

Were I of a more cynical mindset, I might suggest that nobody can actually be as sunningly stupid as Detective Caudill is claiming to be, and that it’s more likely that Mr. Caudill is in fact cynically manipulating a fundamentally b0rked legal system to puff up his own personal fame. But I’m not really that cynical, of course; it’s possible that Detective Caudill really is that stupid. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a police department deliberately sets out to weed intelligent people out of the force

Random link o’ the day…

…with a nod to grey_evil_twin:

The Monkeysphere

But think of Osama Bin Laden. Did you just picture a camouflaged man hiding in a cave, drawing up suicide missions? Or are you thinking of a man who gets hungry and has a favorite food and who had a childhood crush on a girl and who has athelete’s foot and chronic headaches and laughs when a friend farts, a man who wakes up in the morning with a boner and loves volleyball and fusses over his spoiled children and haggles over the price of a car and who goes on Seinfeld-esque rants about too much ice in his drinks?
Something in you, just now, probably was offended by that. You think I’m trying to build sympathy for the murderous bastard. Do you see the equation? Simply knowing random human facts about him immediately tugs at our sympathy strings. He comes closer to our Monkeysphere, he takes on dimension.
Now, the cold truth is my Bin Laden is just as desperately in need of a bullet to the skull as the raving four-color caricature on some redneck’s T-shirt. The key to understanding people like him, though, is realizing that we are the caricature on his T-shirt.

Of Dyson spheres, consumerism, and the Great Old Ones

God bless consumerist society. It makes me all tingly inside to know that we live in a time and a place where Shelly and phyrra can go shopping together, and come back with matching Hello Kitty panties. Is this a great time to be alive or what?

So anyway, we went to dinner with phyrra and nihilus last night at the local Cheesecake Factory, which is (for some reason) decorated in a style that can accurately be described as “trendy chain restaurant meets shrine to the Great God Cthulhu.” The dining room is flanked by tall pillars with glowing orange eyes of the Greater Old Ones ato them, for reasons not entirely clear to your humble scribe.

So we ate beneath the scowling glower of the Great Old One, and nihilus and I started talking about Dyson spheres, and specifically what a Dyson sphere would look like from the outside.

The idea behind a Dyson sphere is pretty straightforward: you are a member of a super-advanced alien race, you have the technology to construct objects on the scale of solar systems, and you need energy. Lots and lots of it. So what do you do? Why, you take apart your solar system and build a Dyson sphere–a shell, about 90,000,000 miles or so in diameter, that completely encloses your sun. You live on the inside surface of the sphere, which has the land area of hundreds of millions of earth-sized planets, and you capture all the available energy from your star.

Now, the laws of quantum dynamics and the Second Law of Thermodynamics impose limitations on how efficiently it is possible to capture and use energy to perform useful work. The law of entropy always wins out in the end; no matter how advanced you are, there are certain limits imposed by the laws of physics themselves on how efficiently you can capture the energy from your sun. Some of it is going to leak out in the form of waste heat. A Dyson sphere cannot be a perfectly dark body; there must be some radiated waste, there’s no way around it.

I believe that a Dyson sphere, when viewed from the outside, would appear as a dark stellar-mass object radiating strongly in deep infrared. nihilus believes the limitations imposed by the laws of physics are much smaller, and that a Dyson sphere created by an advanced enough civilization can capture and use the star’s energy with such efficiency that it would appear as a dark stellar-mass body radiating only a few microdegrees Kelvin above the universal microwave background radiation. Unfortunately, I don’t have the background to be able to calculate which is more likely–anyone?

During the course of this conversation, nihilus and I apparently missed Shelly doing something lascivious with a cherry, which is a pity, but at least phyrra got to see it…