Archive for December, 2002

Orthogonal to the Middle

Friday, December 13th, 2002

Here’s a link to a cool mac story, thanks to Lori.

I took the political compass test that’s been meming around. I figured from reading the analysis page that I would come out authoritarian left, and I did. I was pretty close to the middle on both, though.

The idea of a four way political cube (left/right and authorian/libertarian, in this case) is neither new nor original to that site. Peter Kreeft wrote an article (The Politics of Architecture) about the four political types, using four real-life examples, back in 1996. I find it clearer to think of people as economically socialist or capitalist, and, separately, socially libertarian or conservative. Of course, neither fit me - I’m economically distributivist and socially particularist.

Defending vs. Denying Plagiarism

Thursday, December 12th, 2002

Pretty site of the day: Network Simplicity
Though it resembles the bold, simple lines of CSS, this site is made with tables, for a 2002 look with a 1997 back-end. I found this one while investigating OpenSSH on Cygwin.

It’s been a while since I blogged about plagiarism, so I’ll summarize what I’ve said in the past. At first, I was mystified by the uproar against plagiarism because I don’t read fanfic for its originality. In fact, fanfic that was based in other authors’ playgrounds disturbed me, while rewriting television shows seemed perfectly innocuous.

Plagiarism is a moral issue, not a legal one, so the great debate always looks like a crusade. All the anti-plagiarists seize the moral high ground, but the pro-plagiarists can be divided into two camps, those who defend plagiarism, and those who deny it. That is to say, there are those who embrace their inner plagiarists, and there are those who try to weasel out of the charges.

The proper moral defense of plagiarism places it in a storytelling tradition in which originality has little, or even negative, value. Historically, originality hasn’t counted for much but today it does, making this
a radical defense. It simultaneously places all the plagiarized texts, from modern copyrighted novels to scripts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the same communal, incestuous storytelling tradition. As R. J. pointed out, the original authors may not care for this extreme form of textual poaching, and readers of a non-communal persuasion (which is to say, almost all of us) will feel defrauded by authors who pass off others’ work as their own.

It takes a radical to adopt a radical stance on fanfic. Most pro-plagiarists maintain their positions by denying that any plagiarism happened, rather than defending plagiarism as a new moral good. They pussyfoot around with the definition of the word or they claim that an author’s note mentioning the victim de-plagiarizes direct, unmarked quotation of non-canon source materials. They pretend to believe that all of fanfic is plagiaristic, in order to excuse their plagiarism as just more fanfic writing.

Plagiarism is a moral offense, not a copyright violation, and can be defended only with moral arguments - that is, an explanation of why it is good and right for the plagiarist to incorporate someone else’s work seamlessly into their own. Arguments that it wasn’t quite plagiarism or that everybody does it will not do. That’s just denial of what is plain and clear to the average reader, and you know what they say about denial…

It’s not just a river in Egypt anymore.


Wednesday, December 11th, 2002

Every time a customer sneezes, my company has a new product to support. The documentation issue is swiftly becoming a nightmare, so today I started looking into content management systems. Blogs are technically CMS’s, but I was looking for SGML or at least XML. I used to know a bit about this stuff, and I recognized DocBook straight off. Here’s my DocBook link dump:

It was unseasonably warm tonight, yet they’re predicting a snowstorm for tomorrow. The Boston weather might just be rain.

Favorite Filks

Tuesday, December 10th, 2002

New at zendom: R. J. is stunningly rational and pellucid on the topic of plagiarism.

I did my democratic duty and voted tonight in a special election for City Council. Voting is a challenge in a state where everyone is a Democrat, except for the occasional Republican trying his best for a Democrat look-and-feel. (Speaking of look-and-feel, I surfed across this pretty website today at work.) How do you choose between five gubernatorial candidates in a primary when they have exactly the same stands on all the big issues? When it’s a local office, it’s a bit simpler - you vote for a friend of a friend of a friend.

I left out a couple of Boston facts last time: a third of the office space in Boston is vacant now. We have very low rates of property crime and murder, considering. Oh, and Amtrak didn’t even put a bid in on the commuter rail contract, and the MBTA was their biggest customer. All I can say is, don’t let the caboose hit you on the way out.

On to the official topic - Veronica was asking about filks. These were the most notable so far:

  • “When I Stop Reading SF” by Nate Bucklin, from Rainbow’s Edge
  • “The Actor” by Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff, from Retro Rocket Science
  • “The Sexy Data Tango” by Voltaire from Banned on Vulcan

In the News

Monday, December 9th, 2002

I’m behind on the Boston news - Bernard Cardinal Law is in deep doo-doo. I say revoke his citizenship while he’s still in Rome, and solve all manner of problems for the diocese. I think the latest release of church documents has turned even the most forgiving of public opinion against him. You have to live in Massachusetts to appreciate just how exhaustive the coverage of the pedophilia scandal has been. This is not the place to be if you’re a priest.

And the bad news doesn’t end there. The state is raiding training funds to pay for something or other. One-third of the office space in Boston is available for rent at the moment. Unemployment is up 40,000 instead of down 40,000 as predicted. It looks like this will be a real winter, not the farce of the last few years - as the 24 hours straight of snow last week foreboded.

I had the world’s worst T experience today. In the morning 4 teens got on the train, one of them crying like a baby. I was looking around for the papoose-in-a-sack, but it was, indeed, a teenager imitating a baby. At first I thought she might be retarded, until she swore up a storm at an Indian passenger.

Then, on my way home, I got into one of those conversations with the crazy people who ride the T. He said you can make $10-$20 an hour begging at Harvard Ave. Maybe I should switch careers…

There was an FBI raid last week that I forgot to mention on a South Shore software company - fortunately not mine. A piece of advice - don’t take VC funding from Osama bin Laden, no matter how hard-up you are. If you’d like to fund my company, please email me at…

Filk Radio II

Sunday, December 8th, 2002

This week on Filk Radio, they’re having a Trek marathon in honor of the new movie. The TOS filks are the best, but there’s a funny one on now about Data: he’s fully functional…and anatomically correct! It features some creative uses of technobabble imagery and a horta. I highly recommend Trek filk.

Why steal music (yes, you) when you can have free, fan-produced music? It’s like downloading pirated Christie Golden books without ever having read Penny Proctor. Put down Kazaa and go listen to something alternative. (Yes, you!)

Beliefs About the External World

Saturday, December 7th, 2002

Three cool links from R.J.: my blogger code (B5 d- t+ k s u– f i o x– e– l+ c+), a parody of an Apple “switch” commercial, and the Battleground God quiz. (If you want to take the quiz, do so before reading the rest of this entry, in which I pick apart two of the questions.)

You have been awarded the TPM service medal! This is our third highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground.
The fact that you progressed through this activity without suffering many hits and biting no bullets suggests that whilst there are inconsistencies in your beliefs about God, on the whole they are well thought-out.

There are, in fact, no inconsistencies in my beliefs about God. Here are the two questions in question, and why my answers were consistent:

You’ve just taken a direct hit! Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist - absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.
The contradiction is that on the first ocassion (Loch Ness monster) you agreed that the absence of evidence or argument is enough to rationally justify belief in the non-existence of the Loch Ness monster, but on this occasion (God), you do not.

I interpreted “Loch Ness monster” as a physical being, whereas God is non-corporeal. In general, statements about animals can be falsified, and statements about spirits, souls, and the like cannot. The people behind the quiz address this issue in the Battleground God FAQ, by saying a “Nessie non-existence sceptic” could argue that Nessie is a mystical being herself or otherwise undetectable to the senses. However, the question did not ask about this souped-up, undetectable Loch Ness monster, but about the Loch Ness monster simpliciter.

It is generally understood that the notion “God” refers to a non-corporeal and undetectable being, whereas notions like “Nessie” and “Sasquatch” refer to postulated physical but elusive evolutionary throwbacks without mystical, inexplicable powers of concealment. Until such mystical powers are explicitly added to the definition of “Nessie,” I am in the right with my answer. Had the question been about standard non-corporeal beings such as ghosts, I would have given the opposite, officially correct, answer. Likewise, had the question clearly been about the Nessie non-existence sceptic’s mystically elusive Nessie, I would have given the opposite answer. So the quiz fails on this question.

The second question is a bit murkier, and has to do with the distinction between the external world and the realm of moral judgments:

You’ve just taken a direct hit! Earlier you said that it is justifiable to base one’s beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, regardless of the external evidence, or lack of it, for the truth or falsity of this conviction. But now you do not accept that the rapist Peter Sutcliffe was justified in doing just that. The example of the rapist has exposed that you do not in fact agree that any belief is justified just because one is convinced of its truth. So you need to revise your opinion here. The intellectual sniper has scored a bull’s-eye!

The intellectual sniper missed again. Of course the example of the rapist exposes that I don’t agree that any belief is justified by conviction, because I don’t. My answer to the earlier question had to do with, and I quote, “one’s beliefs about the external world.” That question is actually misstated in the analysis above. The original statement was “It is justifiable to base one’s beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, even in the absence of any external evidence for the truth of these convictions.” It did not mention evidence for the falsity of the conviction. The second question was, on the contrary, about the rapist’s beliefs about whether he was doing the will of God. This is not a belief about the external world, but rather about the mental state of God and the moral justification of the rapist’s own acts.

It is one thing to believe that God exists. That is a belief about the external world, i.e., a belief about those things that exist, physically or spiritually, in or around the universe. It is another thing to believe that God wants you to act in a certain way. Beliefs about what God wants you to do are not beliefs about the external world - they are beliefs about God’s will. God’s will is not a part of the external world, any more than your will or mine is. So the rapist’s beliefs were not about the external world but about God’s internal world, and therefore not justifiable.

To put it another way, one can be justified in believing that a cabbage is an artichoke, lacking evidence to the contrary, but one cannot be justified in believing that someone else believes a cabbage is an artichoke, lacking evidence to the contrary. Your own beliefs are, in some sense, your rational property - you build up your own picture of the world in any consistent way that comes to mind. Other people’s beliefs are not your property, however, and you are never rationally justified in believing, with a firm, inner conviction, what you have merely postulated about another mind. It is the other person who is the final arbiter of their own beliefs; you can have no rational grounds for conviction about a second-order belief. Building up your own determinative pictures of other people’s minds in your own mind is solipsism, not reason.

I’m sure nobody wanted to hear all that, but I enjoyed it.

The Sound of Sickbay

Thursday, December 5th, 2002

As a preface, I’d like to mention that this is all Liz’s fault.

Title:   The Sound of Sickbay
Author:  Jemima
Series:  VOY
Codes:   filk
Summary: Dead Again, the filk.
         Was: "The Sound of Silence."


Hello Doctor, my old friend -
Am I your patient once again?
Was there a mishap on the holodeck?
Did Chakotay my best shuttle wreck?
Do the implants the Borg planted in my brain
Still remain?
Another round in sickbay...

So tell me, Doctor, did I die?
Tell me, did Chakotay cry?
Once more victim of a paradox,
Or stranded on another class-D rock?
If my lungs were grabbed by a dying Vidiian bore
Find me two more
Lying around in sickbay.

Faux crew assembled in the mess -
A hundred fifty, more or less.
People made out of deuterium,
People melting, pandemonium,
People getting hitched, completely unaware
They had no prayer -
No help was found in sickbay.

"Fools," said Q, "you do not know
Life eternal's deathly slow.
From my future you could save me,
Q's Continuum enslaves me."
Mortal Q a cup of hemlock downs
With renown in sickbay.

And the crewmen still salute
Captain Janeway lying mute.
And the sensors shrieked their warning,
Of a wormhole swiftly forming.
And the Borg said, "The words of the Prophets
Are useless when the wormhole roils;
Try transwarp coils."
Expiring to the sounds of sickbay.


Wednesday, December 4th, 2002

Because I do intend to spout off on personality type soon, I’ll put up my collection of Myers-Briggs Type indicator links now.

  • The Four Temperaments is Kiersey’s simplification of the sixteen MBTI types.
  • TypeLogic has descriptions of all 16 types.
  • Human Metrics has an on-line type indicator quiz.
  • Personality Pathways lists just the eight options and has you choose between each pair, for a quick, if inaccurate, type result.
  • For the advanced typee, Discover Your Personality has a Step II (Form Q) which breaks the four preferences into five facets each, for a total of 20, each broken down further into a range of intensity. You have to pay to take it, though you could guess a bit by looking at the PDF sample report.
  • is the web home of my personality type. Note especially the pseudo-acronym status bar scroller at the bottom of your browser window.
  • The Star Trek Personality Test is based on the MBTI. To see the characters by type, check out my blog entry about it.
  • This link to SG1 Types comes compliments of Jerie.

Snark and snark, what is snark?

Wednesday, December 4th, 2002

Well, it’s that time of year, when the sub-freezing temperatures cause the original Bell-era (not Ma, Alexander Graham) phone lines to contract and my surfing is intermittent at best. Luckily for me, I checked fandom wank before the line gave out, so I have something brief to blog. I have some longer topics outstanding - Internet Types and a few children’s fantasies I read over Thanksgiving - but it’s late and I’m in the mood for snark.

Today’s most notable wank entry was about anti-wank sentiment, and the most notable anti-wank was by Joan the English Chick. Joan the English Chick is, if she’ll excuse the expression, a BNF from Buffy fandom - more specificially, she’s the woman responsible for the last few seasons of Buffy Transcripts. Her LJ entry argues the deleterious effects of “snark for snark’s sake” upon fandom.

Let me make this perfectly clear (for you S’s out there) - my position is that snark is the essence of fandom, and more specificially, of fanfiction. Snark is far and away the main appeal of fandom to me; snark is the main inspiration of my fic. There is no way to snark - snark is the way.

I get the feeling that Joan doesn’t define snark the way I do. I equate snark with sarcasm. Sarcasm ranges from bitter complaints to caustic remarks to gentle gibes to simple irony. Sarcasm is not just a vice, it’s a language - the language of fandom. Joan says:

The temptation to say something snarky and witty, and thus entertaining, but devoid of actual content, is apparently too much for a lot of people to resist.

I’m not in fandom to have deep discussions about, Kahless help us, the tragedies of Janeway’s non-canonical past or the thematic commonality between Star Trek: Voyager and the Odyssey. I am here to entertain. I read other people’s fic in order to be entertained. I won’t use the h-word, but none of us can claim we’re in fandom to save the seals or feed the hungry. Is my fic devoid of content because it’s entertaining? No. Neither is snark devoid of content because it’s entertaining. Wit amuses because it has content - you cannot be witty without a topic, without saying something that strikes home.

Of course, you can go the long way around to content, and have extended, serious discussions about Justin Tighe (ugh) or Odysseus. I’d rather make my points more briefly and entertainingly. I don’t have the time for infinite LJ discussions of the eternal topics. Similarly, when writing or reading fanfic, I prefer something said briefly and ironically over long novels of deadly serious angst or equally sober romance. Irony is my favorite theme, though I’ll settle for a good tragedy (which is, by the way, not the same thing as angst).

The interplay between fanfic and canon is, to me, always a snarky one. Where slash writers look for the essential slashiness of the show, I look for the fundamental snarkiness. I write about Janeway’s abandoned lizard babies coming back to haunt her, about the joy of being Borg, about a Mirror Mirror universe in which the canon universe is the evil one. I’m in it for the irony.

It’s entirely possible that the difference between Joan and yours truly is a wider difference between Trek fandom and Buffy fandom. Compare, for instance, Joan’s Buffy transcripts, which are, literally, transcripts with some stage directions, to Jim Wright’s Voyager transcripts, which are extended snarks with some semi-accurate dialogue included. I’m indebted to Joan for Buffy reference material, but Jim has brought me hours of entertainment. If I were stuck on a desert island with only one set of transcripts, I’d take Delta Blues.

Buffy is a show with, arguably, themes - the quality is relatively high for television, with or without pity. I can imagine Joan having intelligent discussions about Buffy. Trek, on the other hand, is very bad science fiction, with a long history of marginal production values and bad acting. Themes are not what spring to mind after Yet Another Time Travel Episode™. Whenever someone seriously complains about a current Trek series (as opposed to snarking about it), I have to ask, “Have you seen TOS?” Can Scott Bakula hold a candle to William Shatner when it comes to bad acting? Can Enterprise out-TOS TOS with execrable scripts? Can I watch with a straight face? No.

I have years of fond Trek snarking behind me, and, Paramount willing, years more to come. I wouldn’t trade a single snark for a treatise on the sociocultural implications of Benjamin Sisko qua Emissary - unless, of course, it were meant snarkily. If that means I’ve gotten “too deeply into the snark/wank mindset,” I don’t blame fandom wank. I blame Spock’s Brain.