Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Once you understand a format well enough, handcrafting files within that format can often let you do things beyond what the people who wrote the format ever expected.

For example, here is a small ZIP file, containing no executable code, no viruses, no dangerous data of any sort. It’s a mere 42 kilobytes – smaller than my avatar image. The tricky bit is that, when fully uncompressed, the result is 4.5 petabytes of data. That’s right – not mega-, giga-, or even tera-bytes, but peta-bytes. (Source)

For a more extreme example, here is a teensy little zip file, a mere 440 bytes. When that file is uncompressed, the result is, within a new subdirectory, a teensy little zip file, a mere 440 bytes. When that file is uncompressed, the result is, within a new subdirectory, a teensy little zip file, a mere 440 bytes. When that file is uncompressed, the result is, within a new subdirectory, a teensy little zip file, a mere 440 bytes. … And so on. That’s right – attempting to fully uncompress all layers of this little gem results in an /infinite/ series of files. (Source)

Be quite cautious if you actually download these files. Some versions of virus scanner programs attempt to decompress archived programs completely in order to scan them; at least one server version of McAfee virus is known to be vulnerable to this, and will fill up its disc, crashing its system. Imagine that: one of the most popular, well-known, and carefully crafted pieces of software in the world… taken down by 440 bytes that fall entirely within the legal specs of the ZIP format.


Lojban is a fascinating conlang, and learning even some of its basics helps you notice various gaps in your thinking. Eg, you can’t say that “X is of value” without implicitly acknowledging that an unstated part of the sentence is “of value to somebody”.

Pronounced ‘shnig-lick’, Cniglic is an extremely specialized conlang derived from Lojban. Structurally, it’s simply the wholesale appropriation of Lojban’s “indicators”, including “attitudinals”, “emotionals”, “discursives”, and “vocatives”; and, once lifted out of the original context, it becomes a sort of modular block that can be plugged into any other language. (I’ve thrown a near-complete reference up here, so it’s easy for me to check no matter where I happen to be.)

For the emotionals alone, with just a basic set of fifty words, all of which are extremely short, close to 2,500 distinct emotional states can be expressed – not counting combinations thereof. That’s nigh-certainly even better than just assuming there’s a German word for whatever oddball emotion you want to express. For example, thinking about about my not-nostalgia-yet related to an old canal, Cniglic offers a possible answer: “.uenai.u’anairo’i.i’uro’o”: the expectation of the emotional loss of a physical familiarity.

I’ve also managed to get a word added to Lojban’s “experimental” namespace, of a form which Cniglic inherits: “bei’e“, giving an explicit word to use to think about Bayesian evidence. But that’s likely fodder for a full post of its own.

ki’e, fe’o, co’o

ASL isn’t all /that/ obscure, but it does require enough of a special effort to learn that people do. The main reason I’m picking this one to highlight first is because I just happen to have a couple of links to some ASL interpretations of a rather cheerful, bouncy, and generally enjoyable Jonathan Coulton tune.

(Caution: cheerful Coulton tune is likely NSFW.)

Jonathan Coulton – First of May – ASL Song

First of May (ASL) LIVE with Jonathan Coulton – Dallas May 2009

I always enjoy the mental shiftings that occur when I have a thought which ties up and simplifies a lot of other thoughts – that point where a bunch of seemingly random dots on a page shift and start forming a map, or a picture.

A random happenstance reminded me today of something about myself that I’d forgotten: the overarching idea which lies behind a number of my individual enthusiasms and hobbies. Ham radio, conlangs, SETI, encryption, programming classic computers, heraldry and vexillology, ancient Egyptian and modern Lojban, mathematical notation, calendar systems, and more; they all share at least part of the same idea: storing and sending information in ways most people wouldn’t understand.

Even my chosen nom de net is derived a now-obsolete networking system.

This blog doesn’t have any particular purpose, besides collating all of my social networking posts into a single site. But perhaps I can try writing a few posts highlighting some of the OOCPs I enjoy.

From an email I’ve just sent:

> DataPacRat wrote:

>> I know that I have every intention of getting myself digitized, and
>> Von Neumanning myself across as many star systems as practical, with
>> various sets of plans to be revived from backups if no ‘still alive’
>> signals are sent for too long (eg, after one year, ten, a hundred, a
>> thousand, and so on), if it’s at all feasible to do so. And I’m not a
>> particularly exceptional example of the species.
> What do you mean by “I”?  How would such a thing be you?

I don’t subscribe to the matter theory of identity. The atoms in my
brain are gradually being replaced, and according to quantum theory,
every single atom is indistinguishable on a fundamental level from
every other atom. Thus it doesn’t seem to be what my brain is made up
of that’s important in figuring out whether or not it’s ‘me’.

I don’t subscribe to the continuity theory of identity. For just one
reason, I once went through an episode of transient global amnesia,
where memories stopped being recorded and I’m told I kept asking “What
time is it?” every few seconds; the metaphorical tape of my memories
is snipped off at the start of the episode, and resumes after. I’m
also a full-fledged cryonicist, and if I ever actually make use of
that procedure, it will be much more fundamental gap in my existence;
but however I would be woken up afterwards, I still expect to be ‘me’.

I do subscribe to at least some version of the pattern theory of
identity. Roughly put, I consider any mind which is sufficiently close
to my current one, in terms of memories, personality, skill, and so
on, to be a version of ‘me’. This is currently a very loose and waffly
description, given how much I have changed over my life so far;
fortunately, I can still get away with such a loose definition, as
it’s easy to tell whether or not my skull has been opened up yet. By
the time something resembling an actual copy of me has been made, I
expect to have worked out a much more coherent set of guidelines. As
an initial guess, I expect to use the basis of “any mind which has
been copied from an existing copy of my mind”, though that will be
more troublesome once it becomes possible not just to make copies of
the digital emulation of my whole brain, but also to edit them.

(I happen to have written a placeholder for these ideas for the
“Orion’s Arm” project, in the form of their Encyclopedia Galactica
articles, “Dividual Naming Schema” at and “Dividual
Interaction Protocols” at . The ‘_____’
Spores, , were a
similar attempt to work out how a digital mind interested in its
long-term survival might try copying itself as widely as possible
without making a pest of itself.)

I have a couple of relevant lines in my quotefile, both by John K. Clark:

“We don’t have thoughts, we are thoughts. Thoughts are not responsible
for the machinery that happens to think them.”
“But I am not an object. I am not a noun, I am an adjective. I am the
way matter behaves when it is organized in a John K Clark-ish way. At
the present time only one chunk of matter in the universe behaves that
way; someday that could change.”

A rule-of-thumb I’m experimenting with is “What would someone who was more /competent/ than me do?”.

As part of that, I’ve just acquired a bracelet which not only keeps track of the time, but also acts as a pedometer and lets me check my heart rate – pieces of data which seem like they’ll be useful in maintaining my health.

Next up, to see if I already have a sticker of the right shape to cover up the corporate logo on the wristband…

Canal a Canal b
The two pictures here are of Lock 13 of the first Welland Canal, looking to the south and north respectively.

I get an odd feeling when I think about this place. Around 1830, the equivalent of millions of dollars was put into building the canal. People lost their lives in the construction; there were labor disputes; at one point, there was even a bomb. It became a commercial artery, through which commerce flowed north and south between the Great Lakes, and what’s now the downtown of the city of St. Catharines rose up because of it.

But, after a while, a new canal route was dug a couple of miles to the east… and now the original canal is little more than a drainage creek with a modest nature trail. It’s more an obstacle than anything – you can see how people have shoved pipes from one side to the other to carry more important things.

As I walk along that trail, and look at what remains of the original locks, I can’t help but think of things I don’t usually think of. So much effort and energy put into something considered so important… now entirely forgotten. A once-thriving piece of industrial infrastructure; now little more than another of those near-forgotten, in-between spaces lost between the things people do pay attention to these days.

The emotion inspired in me isn’t quite nostalgia, nor is it quite melancholy, though it partakes of both. There’s probably a German word for it, but I don’t know what it is.


Was just snuffled by a lion. And a dragon. — at Chinese open house at Niagara Folk Arts.


Several dozen posts so far, archived here. Just to change it up a little, here they are in chronological order:

October 26, 1676–Bacon’s Rebellion
September 9, 1739–The Stono Rebellion
October 28, 1793–Invention of cotton gin.
January 8, 1811-German Coast slave rebellion begins in Louisiana.
July 2, 1822-Denmark Vesey executed for planning slave revolt in South Carolina.
October 26, 1825–Erie Canal opens after over 1000 workers die building it.
August 21, 1831–Nat Turner’s Rebellion.
July 3, 1835–Paterson Textile Strike of 1835
October 30, 1837–Nicholas Farwell’s hand is crushed working on railroad, courts decide in Farwell v. Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation that companies have no responsibility for working conditions.
February 13, 1845–Lowell Female Labor Reform Association organizes and forces Massachusetts to investigate conditions in the Lowell textile mills.
February 2, 1848–Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed, fate of New Mexican land grant labor
March 20, 1854–Founding of Republican Party, free labor ideology
June 23, 1855–Celia, a slave, kills her master when he attempts to rape her. Sexual labor of slaves.
October 16, 1859–John Brown launches attack on federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in order to gather guns to free slave labor.
September 22, 1862–Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation
February 23, 1864–Kate Mullaney and Collar Laundry Union go on strike in Troy, New York
February 13, 1865–Sons of Vulcan win nation’s first union contract.
November 25, 1865–Mississippi institutes its Black Code
December 6, 1865–Ratification of the 13th Amendment.
May 10, 1869–Completion of Transcontinental Railroad, treatment of Chinese workers
December 28, 1869–Founding of the Knights of Labor
March 18, 1871–Paris Commune begins
June 21, 1877-Molly Maguires executed in Pennsylvania.
July 14, 1877–The Great Railroad Strike
May 6, 1882–Chinese Exclusion Act.
September 2, 1885–Rock Springs Massacre
March 6, 1886–Knights of Labor begin Great Southwestern Strike against Jay Gould’s railroads.
May 4, 1886–Haymarket Riot
October 5, 1886–Henry George accepts United Labor Party nomination for mayor of New York.
December 8, 1886-American Federation of Labor founded in Columbus.
December 11, 1886–Creation of the Colored Farmers Alliance
February 8, 1887–Grover Cleveland signs the Dawes Act.
November 22, 1887–Thibodaux Massacre
January 14, 1888-Publication of Looking Backward.
January 1, 1892-Ellis Island opens.
July 4, 1892–People’s Party Convention
July 6, 1892–The Homestead Strike
July 11, 1892–Miners outside of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho blow up the Frisco Mill.
February 7, 1894–Cripple Creek gold miners strike.
April 30, 1894–Coxey’s Army
June 26, 1894–Pullman Strike
December 5, 1894–Alabama repeals child labor law to attract New England textile factories.
September 10, 1897–Lattimer Massacre
May 12, 1902–Anthracite coal miners strike in Pennsylvania begins, TR mediates.
April 17, 1905–Supreme Court decided Lochner v. New York
June 27, 1905–IWW founded
December 30, 1905–Murder of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg
February 15, 1907–Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese government agree to Gentlemen’s Agreement, ends most Japanese immigration to the U.S. after west coast labor protests.
February 24, 1908–Muller v. Oregon decided
November 2, 1909–Spokane free speech fight begins.
November 13, 1909–Cherry Mine Fire in Illinois kills 259 workers.
November 22, 1909–Uprising of the 20,000
August 9, 1910–invention of electric washing machine transforms women’s unpaid domestic labor.
October 1, 1910–Iron Workers bomb Los Angeles Times building.
March 25, 1911–Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
May 3, 1911–Wisconsin passes first workers compensation law
August 11, 1911–Watertown Arsenal workers strike over Taylorism
February 24, 1912–Beating of the women and children at Lawrence
August 23, 1912–United States Commission on Industrial Relations formed
June 7, 1913-Paterson Silk Pageant. Addendum here.
August 3, 1913–Wheatland Riot
December 24, 1913–Italian Hall disaster in Calumet, Michigan
January 5, 1914–Henry Ford announces $5 day for workers who lived a lifestyle of which he personally approved.
March 22, 1914–Mother Jones arrested supporting Colorado coal strike.
April 20, 1914–Ludlow Massacre
January 15, 1915-Ralph Chaplin writes “Solidarity Forever.”
March 4, 1915–LaFollette Seamen’s Act signed
November 19, 1915–Joe Hill executed in Utah.
November 5, 1916–The Everett Massacre
July 12, 1917–The Bisbee Deportation
August 1, 1917–Frank Little lynched in Butte.
October 10, 1917–Closing of Storyville, New Orleans’ red light district.
June 16, 1918-Eugene Debs arrested for violating Espionage Act.
February 6, 1919–The Seattle General Strike
September 9, 1919–Boston police go on strike, crushed by Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge.
November 11, 1919–The Centralia Massacre
May 19, 1920–Matewan Massacre
August 25, 1921–Battle of Blair Mountain
May 26, 1924–Coolidge signs Immigration Act of 1924
March 10, 1925–New York Times first reports Radium Girls story.
June 11, 1925-Davis Day
August 25, 1925–Founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
August 23, 1927–Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
March 3, 1931–Davis-Bacon Act signed.
March 7, 1932–River Rouge march and repression.
April 12, 1934–Toledo Auto-Lite strike begins.
May 9, 1934–Longshoremen strike begins in San Francisco
May 16, 1934–Minneapolis Teamsters Strike
July 11, 1934–Southern Tenant Farmers Union forms in Tyronza, Arkansas
May 6, 1935–Works Progress Administration created.
July 5, 1935–FDR signs National Labor Relations Act
August 14, 1935–FDR signs Social Security Act.
October 19, 1935–John L. Lewis punches Carpenters president Big Bill Hutcheson on the floor of the AFL Convention.
November 9, 1935–Creation of the CIO
March 1, 1936. Hoover Dam turned over to government. Labor history of its construction.
February 11, 1937–The Flint Sit-Down Strike ends.
May 26, 1937–Battle of the Overpass.
May 30, 1937–Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago
June 25, 1938–FDR signs Fair Labor Standards Act
January 25, 1941–March on Washington Movement leads to end of official segregation in defense industry.
August 4, 1942–Creation of the Bracero Program.
May 29, 1943–Normal Rockwell publishes Rosie the Riveter cover in Saturday Evening Post.
June 6, 1943–Detroit Hate Strike
July 17, 1944-Port Chicago explosion
August 22, 1945–Air Line Stewardesses Association, first flight attendant union, forms.
September 22, 1946–Tobacco workers win contract in North Carolina, starting CIO’s Operation Dixie campaign.
December 2, 1946–The Oakland General Strike
March 25, 1947–Mine explosion in Centralia, IL kills 111 workers.
June 20, 1947–President Truman vetoes Taft-Hartley Act
October 27, 1948–Donora Fog.
April 8, 1952–Truman nationalizes steel industry.
March 14, 1954–Salt of the Earth premiers
December 5, 1955–Merger of the AFL and CIO
September 14, 1959–Eisenhower signs Landrum-Griffin Act.
January 17, 1962–President Kennedy issues Executive Order 10988, authorizing collective bargaining for public workers.
April 4, 1968–Assassination of Martin Luther King during sanitation strike in Memphis
September 23, 1969–Richard Nixon announces Philadelphia Plan to desegregate construction industry.
December 24, 1969-Curt Flood sends letter to Major League Baseball demanding free agency.
December 30, 1969-Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act signed.
January 5, 1970–Murder of UMWA reformer Jock Yablonski
March 18, 1970–Postal Workers go on strike
May 8, 1970–Hard Hat Riot
July 29, 1970–United Farm Workers force growers into the first union contract in the history of California agricultural labor.
April 28, 1971–OSHA begins
February 26, 1972-Pittston Coal Company slurry dam collapses in Logan County, West Virginia, 125 dead.
March 5, 1972–Lordstown Strike
March 23, 1974–Coalition of Trade Union Women holds first meeting.
April 14, 1975–Bunker Hill Mining Company in Idaho announces policy of sterilization for women working in its lead smelter.
October 23, 1976–International Woodworkers of America Local 3-101 holds a monthly union meeting.
March 28, 1977–AFSCME goes on strike in Atlanta, crushed by mayor Maynard Jackson
August 3, 1981–Air Traffic Controllers go on strike in biggest disaster in organized labor’s history.
June 30, 1983–Phelps-Dodge strike starts in Clifton-Morenci, Arizona, massive union-busting by copper company.
January 25, 1984–End of the International Nestle Boycott
December 2, 1984–Union Carbide plant leak at Bhopal, India
April 11, 1986–Police tear gas strikers at Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota.
September 17, 1989–The Pittston Strike
May 10, 1993–Kader Toy Fire.
January 1, 1994–NAFTA
March 4, 1998–Supreme Court rules in Oncale v. Sundonwer Offshore Services. Same-sex sexual harassment.
November 30, 1999-WTO protests begin in Seattle.
April 7, 2000–Workers Rights Consortium founded in New York

(This post last updated: Apr 2015)


Thought experiment:

Through whatever accident of history underlies these philosophical dilemmas, you are faced with a choice between two, and only two, mutually exclusive options:

* Choose A, and all life and sapience in the solar system (and presumably the universe), save for a sapient paperclipping AI, dies.

* Choose B, and all life and sapience in the solar system, including the paperclipping AI, dies.

Phrased another way: does the existence of any intelligence at all, even a paperclipper, have even the smallest amount of utility above no intelligence at all?


If anyone responds positively, subsequent questions would be which would be preferred, a paperclipper or a single bacteria; a paperclipper or a self-sustaining population of trilobites and their supporting ecology; a paperclipper or a self-sustaining population of australopithecines; and so forth, until the equivalent value is determined.