Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in February, 2004


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I’m registered at Orkut, now. It’s an invitation-only “friends” network tied to Google. There are user profiles, messages, communities… reminds me strongly of the FirstClass-based BBS I built in the early 1990s, and its many cousins all over the world.

Of course, it’s slicker, web-accessible, and great emphasis is placed on rating people and building up a “network” of “friends” (note that these words aren’t necessarily used in their everyday acceptions here). The terms of service are not overly friendly:

By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials.

Then again, in today’s lawyer-dominated society, such was to be expected. Furthermore, all personal information you put into your profile will probably be processed, summarized, injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected, put through several statistical wringers and eventually be used to do something to you that is supposed to be precisely tailored to your interests.

<digression>Today, the spam I get is very easy to filter, because spammers know nothing of me beyond my e-mail address. So, anything that mentions contracts, schools, mortgages, loans, banks, medication, orders, jobs, diplomas, delivery, health, ebay, weight, tickets, meetings, members (including the male kind icon_lol.gif) and other similar topics must be spam. So, would I like to receive unsolicited e-mail about things that really interest me? Not easy to say, but I can’t rule it out beforehand.</digression>

Getting back to Orkut. At this writing, I’m informed that I’m “connected to 35862 people through 23 friends.” Nearly all of those I know personally or professionally. It’s very interesting to follow the network links. The communities I’m interested in have little traffic so far; I can’t see them substituting the dozens of mailing lists I subscribe to. It’s an intriguing experiment, but not truly compelling in its current incarnation; and it involves too much work. Even typing in username and password every time is sometimes too much…

As Jason Kottke said, perhaps we’ll soon need a personal social coordinator:

Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.

For a very interesting sociological analysis of social networks, see Danah Boyd‘s talk at the ETech conference.

That said, I recommend the Spherical Object Collectors community, created by my friend (in several senses) Mario AV, which already pointed me at this fascinating page about Hikaru Dorodango, or Japanese shiny mud balls.


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Scientists… create single, clonable strand of DNA that folds into an octahedron:

Similar to a piece of paper folded into an origami box, the strand of DNA that Shih and Joyce designed folds into a compact octahedron – a structure consisting of twelve edges, six vertices, and eight triangular faces. The structure is about 22 nanometers in overall diameter.

These miniscule[sic] octahedral structures are the culmination of a design process that started one day when Shih was building a number of shapes with flexible ball and stick models in the laboratory. This exercise attracted his attention to an important structural principle: frames built with triangular faces are rigid, while cubes and other frames built with non-triangular faces are easily deformed.

Buckminster Fuller would have loved this…

Unworkable devices

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The Museum of Unworkable Devices showcases an enormous amount of perpetual-motion devices and similar unattainable ideals of the Newtonian age, as well as 3D-impossibilities and other neat stuff. Highly recommended.

E tem versão em português!

I actually posted Nudge 1.01 some days ago, but there were only minute internal changes… and a new installer, which still looks much like a folder alias. If 1.0 is working for you, no need to download 1.01.

The new installer is much more intelligent, automatically routing a CM to the right folder, and creating it if necessary. If you’re suspicious about installers, double-click the installer and it will open the right folder for you, so you can move the CM manually.

This installer (or variations thereof) will be gradually adopted by my other products, and I plan to publish the source and make it available to other developers…

Real or fake?

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The Presurfer points at SPOT THE FAKE SMILE, an experiment designed to test whether you can spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one.

I got 16 out of 20 right; not bad at all. The 4 I got wrong were among the 6 or so where I was in doubt, so I’ve still got something to learn. Reading facial expressions is something I used to be quite bad at, so it’s nice to know I’m learning…


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I used to think my recently strengthened Meta-Disclaimer covered everything… however, LawMeme (via Boing Boing) discusses what must surely be the largest disclaimer/user agreement on the net.

I stand in awe of, and concede all claims to comprehensiveness to, whoever wrote:

…All other access, use, disclosure, reproduction, delayed use, reduction to human-perceivable form, printing, copying or saving of digital image files or other content, reformatting, file sharing, downloading, uploading, storing, posting, mirroring, archiving, recording, distributing, redistribution, repurposing, modification, rewriting, manipulation, creation of derivative works, translations, or products, licensing, sale, transfer, display, public performance, publicity, broadcast, televising, reporting, publication (in whole or part) or transmission whether by http, ftp, electronic mail or any other file transfer protocol, and whether by electronic means or otherwise, or use by other than individual scholars, or commercial use requires prior written permission  of the rights owner(s) and payment of a fee, and severe penalties apply for theft and unauthorized publication, which is also a crime.

You further agree to refrain from engaging in any conduct that is, or that we determine to be, in violation of this User Agreement. You acknowledge that remedies at law may be inadequate to protect against breach of our intellectual property rights, as prohibited under this Agreement, and you agree to the granting of injunctive relief without the posting of a bond or undertaking, for the protection of terms laid out in this User Agreement without proof of actual damages. You agree to undertake at your expense any measures and/or legal actions necessary to protect and defend our intellectual property by counsel reasonably accepted by us, and upon request to cooperate with us when we need to do so, and to cooperate with us as fully as reasonably required in the defense of any claim or in asserting any available defenses.  We shall have the right at our sole discretion to assume the exclusive control and defense of any matter.

This astonishing document also says:

…The use fee for a license for reproduction of text is one thousandth of a U.S. dollar per word times the number of words times the number of copies, except in the case of Internet use where we generally follow the New York Times use fee schedule of one hundred dollars per article per 30 days or fraction thereof. The amount of the use fee may be adjusted by several cents in order to facilitate electronic tracking and verification of payments.

I hope that doesn’t include the disclaimer itself…

…Additionally, in the event that your actions in violation of this User Agreement result in our being deprived of our exclusive rights to ownership and control of the intellectual property we have created in this website and its digital images and/or other content in whole or substantial part, or of the value thereof, or which would make such intellectual property unsaleable, you agree to pay us liquidated damages in the amount of the greater of five million U.S. dollars, the amount of copyright infringement statutory damages per image or other content for each and every infringement, the appraised market value of this website absent such actions, and the estimated commercial cost to create a website of like complexity and content.

Now why didn’t I think of that?

And at the very end, an important point:

The author of this publication is, a pseudonym. The author, an individual scholar who is not a Counsellor at Law, asserts moral rights.

The deconstruction of this paragraph is left as an exercise for the student…

The scary part is: it’s not a satire. They really mean it, they really think every one of those paragraphs is necessary. That means it probably is necessary. If this goes on, in a few decades, the only way to avoid being sued for zillions of dollars will be to live in the interior of a hollowed-out asteroid at an undisclosed location and have no communication at all with the rest of the universe.

The Buddhabrot Set

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The Presurfer points at Melinda Green’s marvelous page about a new way of displaying the Mandelbrot Set.

The Mac Software Business mailing list I referred to below is getting some interesting posts.

Jiva DeVoe alerted to this post on A Shareware Life (itself a very interesting site):

My company has received the following letter from a law firm claiming to have a client that has patented computer solitaire. And by extension, all computer card games.

I am not kidding.

The earliest date on any of these patents is a filing date of Dec 3, 1996 (it has some kind of amendment that says Jan 19, 1996, but whatever). Solitaire has been around for hundreds of years, and computer implementations have been around for decades. Windows Solitaire dates from around 1990. Most importantly in this case, our solitaire games were first released in 1995.

Wasn’t it Robert Heinlein who, in his Future History, mentioned “The Day They Killed All The Lawyers”? There’s more discussion about this at Dean’s World, by the way.

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