Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Air Superiority

When playing Star Wars: Battlefront multiplayer on the Hoth level, here is my advice. Be the Rebels, be a pilot, and run straight for the snowspeeder before other players get it. This level is completely unfair because the Rebels have aircraft and the Empire does not. As a pilot in the snowspeeder, you will be almost invincible. If you take more than half damage, fly away from the battle and as high up as you can get. Wait until your piloting skills repair the vehicle and then rejoin the battle.

You can use the Empire ground troops for target practice as you go on repeated strafing runs. Anyone without a missile launcher will be helpless against you, and even if they have missiles you can usually dodge them. The only problem with this strategy is that after doing it once or twice it gets boring.

Then you'll want to try something else, like joining the Empire and trying to shoot down the snowspeeders. I've shot down only 1 so far. I think if enough of the Empire players would all spawn with missile launchers and all shoot at once, it should be easy, but people don't seem to do that.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

my house has a new set of lungs
breathing in cold air, breathing out warm

the furnace, in the dark corner of my garage
sits with a belly full of fire like a young dragon
the garden hose its coiled tail
the rake its claw

I know from the sound of its breathing
whether it is day
or night

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Late last night I walked past a guy on the street and he said, "Can you spare a million dollars? I need a million dollars for some crack!" We both laughed.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

"Grass. Just a pinch between my cheek and gum, and I get pure grass satisfaction all afternoon long." Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Friday, October 15, 2004

Email Takedown

If you use Microsoft Outlook, eventually you will probably get hit by one of those Outlook worms that infects your computer and then forwards its vile payload to everyone in your Contacts list. You may not be able to prevent this, but what you could do is to add some people you don't like to your Contacts list. After all, why should only your friends suffer from your misfortune? That wouldn't be fair, would it?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

If That's What They Are

"It's alarming to some degree that crazy people, if that's what they are, in Iraq are taking notice of a school or anything else in our community."

That's a quote in The New York Times from a concerned parent who heard about a scary computer disk found in Iraq. As the Washinton Post reports:
The FBI advised officials in as many as eight cities last month to tighten security in schools after U.S. soldiers raiding an apartment in Iraq seized computer disks containing information about those towns' school systems that was taken from Web sites, government officials said yesterday.

What you say? Some kind of "information" that was publicly available on the Web somehow made its way onto computer disks in some guy's apartment? Gadzooks!
U.S. officials said they remain uncertain whether the Iraqi whose computer disks contained the school information was involved in terrorist activity, and stressed that the government has no evidence of a plot to attack any schools in this country.

Well, for that matter I'm "uncertain" whether my neighbors are cannibals, and I have no evidence that they eat human flesh during midnight raccoon-worshipping rituals, but just the fact that I mentioned it is a little unsettling, isn't it? But what was on the disks? The Star-Telegram says:
Some material on the disk appeared to be randomly downloaded from a publicly accessible Education Department Web site and included such things as manuals on workplace safety, crisis management studies, student codes of conduct and building security diagrams. It also contained an Education Department report on school crisis planning that was published in May 2003.

No sane person would be interested in student codes of conduct, so we are obviously dealing with a madman here. And someone who wanted to make workplaces more dangerous could read the workplace safety manuals and then do the opposite of everything they said! On the other hand, according to The New York Times:"The officials said the man may have been downloading the information as part of a civil redevelopment project for Iraqi schools."

But forget all that. What I love about the first quote is the clever phrase: if that's what they are. I'm going to start using that all the time. For example, just a moment ago I heard elephants, if that's what they are, rustling around outside my garage.

A parent in a Miami Herald story said:
''Do you keep your kids home from school?'' Howe asked. "What do you do? Unfortunately, we have to go on living our everyday life.'

Well, I'd keep writing about this, but unfortunately I have to go on living my everyday life, and it's time for me to drink a few beers, if that's what they are.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

How to Scare People with Letters

Bruce Schneier blogs about a flight disrupted by Arabic writing.

Last month in Milwaukee, a Midwest Airlines flight had already pulled away from the gate when someone, the articles don't say who, found Arabic writing in his or her copy of the airline's in-flight magazine.

I have no idea what sort of panic ensued, but the airplane turned around and returned to the gate. Everyone was taken off the plane and inspected. The plane and all the luggage was inspected. Surprise; nothing was found.

Just wait until people notice that their flight number contains Arabic numerals! That will be a scare. Airlines will have to switch to Roman numerals just to be on the safe side. I can't wait to board "Flight CCCLXXVIII to Albuquerque" leaving from "Gate D-XIV."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

How to Scare People with Statistics

Step 1. Start with data that shows a positive trend, like this DOT highway fatality data that shows that the traffic fatality rate is at the lowest level ever recorded. This article states the correct conclusion at the top:
The fatality rate on the nation’s highways in 2003 was the lowest since record keeping began 29 years ago, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced today. The number of crash-related injuries also dropped to a historic low in 2003.

"America’s roads and highways are safer than ever," said Secretary Mineta. "The decreasing number of traffic fatalities and record low death rate on our roads shows that we are headed down the right road – one that leads to a safer America."

But don't worry, we can find ways to make this data sound scary, as if it means just the opposite.

Step 2. Change the comparison. The fatality rate went down, but we can still make it sound like it went up by comparing absolute numbers (instead of percentages) against some past year.

42,643 people died in traffic accidents in 2003, an increase of 1032 deaths compared to 1999.

(The absolute number can go up even when the rate goes down, because of increasing population and increasing miles driven.)

Step 3. Find some geographic area where things got worse. The fatality rate went down on the whole, but that doesn't mean it went down everywhere. There are probably some areas where it went up. Find one of those areas and comment on it.

In the District of Columbia, 20 more people died compared to the previous year.

Step 4. Change to percentages if that sounds scarier.
Since there were so few traffic fatalities (47) in D.C. in 2002, an increase of 20 is large if stated in percentage terms.

In the District of Columbia, the fatality rate increased by 43% over the previous year.

Step 5. Always round up.
Why not make 43% sound even larger?

In the District of Columbia, the fatality rate increased by nearly 50% over the previous year.

As an added bonus, some people who are math-challenged will think that an increase of 50% means that the rate "doubled." Let them think that.

Step 6. Find some category that got worse
. Even though the fatality rate as a whole went down, there is probably some category of accident that increased. Quote that part.

SUV rollover fatalities increased 6.8 percent from 2,471 to 2,639, even as SUV registrations increased 11 percent.

Step 7. Edit to remove context.
Oops, that isn't really worse, it's better. The second half of that sentence explains what is really going on: there were more SUV rollover fatalities because there were more SUVs on the roads. Since the number of registrations increased more than the fatalities increased, it means there were actually fewer rollovers per SUV on the road. But that doesn't sound scary, so remove that part, and only leave in the part that makes it sound like things have gotten worse.

SUV rollover fatalities increased 6.8 percent from 2,471 to 2,639.

Step 8. Use "slippery slope" arguments
to imply that small changes now are only warnings of much bigger disasters to come.

If these increases continue, eventually 100% of SUVs will roll over and kill their drivers, and everyone in the District of Columbia will die in a car crash. If road speeds keep increasing, in the future it will be common for drivers to speed through school zones at 200mph.

Step 9. Add a scary headline
. The headline is the first thing people read, so it will color their interpretation of everything that comes afterwards.


This example is hypothetical and meant to be a humorous illustration of how to scare people by creatively interpreting statistics. But look for this type of analysis "in the wild" and you just might find it.

Friday, October 01, 2004

It's been a while since I posted flower porn, so enjoy these flower photos.

Added Bonus: volcano porn. More.

Quote of the Day

I even take the position that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged.

- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (link)

The Future Does Not Rock . . . The Vote

I'm shocked—shocked!—to learn, in the October 2004 issue of Wired magazine, that our democracy tragically disenfranchises people who have not yet been born.
The future doesn't vote. And when tomorrow's generations get their turn at the polls, they won't be able to punish those who failed to consider their interests.

This makes me angry, mainly because it reminds me that I have no way of punishing people who lived in the past. If I did, I would surely fine Edith Wharton for writing Ethan Frome. But if there's one thing I've learned from watching all of the Terminator movies, it's that future generations definitely will come back to change whatever they don't like about the future.

I'm more worried by the fact that my future self can't vote today, and I might be unwittingly working against his interests, if I change my mind about things between now and then.