Monday, July 31, 2006


Today the Washington Post ran an article on human-engineered viruses (registration might be required). While I certainly wouldn't want to discount the threat posed by bioweapons, it seems the press at least is prone to viewing threats in a overly compartmentalized fashion. To protect ourselves from bioweapons, we need stockpiled antivirals or other biological countermeasures, or laws to restrict the proliferation of the technology.

What seems to be ignored, though possibly not by the policy-makers, is the fact that the best way to protect ourselves against bioweapons is to prevent them from being used. Non-proliferation is definitely part of this, but one that is ultimately futile. The genie, as the cliche goes, is notoriously difficult to put back in the bottle.

We have at our disposal a considerably more effective deterrent. Consider that some country, let's call it Malignia, decides it wants to support a war of terror against the United States. Malignia manages to develop or acquire a biological weapon. If Malignian-sponsored terrorists sneak this weapon into this country and release it, it could spread very quickly causing millions or tens of millions to become severely ill or die. In response, we could launch a nuclear strike against Malignia that would completely obliterate its population.

The ability to pursue a disproportionate response to any potential attack from a terrorist state automatically gives us a strategic advantage, and is the nature of deterrence. It would be foolish to ignore this deterrent capacity in any consideration of how to prevent biological attacks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Medieval Pandering Vote-Whores

Here's what the House leadership considers the nation's vital business:

The House, citing the nation's religious origins, voted Wednesday to protect the Pledge of Allegiance from federal judges who might try to stop schoolchildren and others from reciting it because of the phrase "under God." [Associated Press]

Let's be clear about this. Our politicians don't think this is important, they think it will be popular. It's a bold move of stating how courageous they are to take a position with which most of their constituents agree and which addresses no real threat. Whether or not you agree with the phrase "under God" being in the pledge (dating only as far back as the McCarthy witch-hunt era), this is a waste of time designed to do nothing but garner votes in November. The legislation is, in fact, completely irrelevant. The Pledge was established by Congress, and the debated phrase was added by Act of Congress in 1954, so if the Pledge is unconstitutional without this new bill, it will still be unconstitutional with it.

This kind of legislation shows absolutely no respect for the intelligence of the voters. It's pure pandering. And it works. Our Congressional representation, in both parties, has been treating us like children or idiots, and will continue to do so as long as we keep rewarding them for it by repeatedly returning them to their elected positions.

Show the vote-whores that you've had enough of their pandering. The sponsors and co-sponsors of this legislation can be found at for the House and Senate.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Net Neutrality, On The Record

While looking through The Congressional Record today for interesting items for my new blog Lying Scum-Weasels, I came upon this interesting speech by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) about network neutrality. In it, he presents three examples of anti-competitive scenarios that could (though, of course, might not) occur if telcos were allowed to discriminate against certain traffic in the way permitted by the legislation that recently passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate. I found it remarkably readable and reasonable as a representation of the potential issues. It is not overly technical, yet does not condescend to the audience.

Naturally, network neutrality is a complicated issue, as most issues debated in Congress are. Neutrality and discrimination can mean different things, and for a broader discussion of the types of network discrimination that are possible, I recommend Ed Felten's paper. It's ten pages, and features a handy "Take-home lesson" at the end of each section.

A Random Tip for Embedding Python

I learned this one the hard way. I'm working on a simulator, written in C++ and using embedded Python for the interpreter. It works great, except that the arrow keys spew escape codes rather than allowing line or history editing.

I poured through Extending and Embedding the Python Interpreter. An afternoon of searching on google turned up nothing. I looked for "embedded python," "arrow keys," "readline," "escape codes," and anything else I could think of in varying combinations.

The solution was ultimately to RTFS. I downloaded the source for the version on the machine I have at work (2.2.3) and the latest release (2.4.3). The solution, found in Py_Main() in the latter, was to import the readline module in my own program before calling PyRun_InteractiveLoop().

It's simple enough, and perfectly sensible. Why the hell couldn't it be mentioned in the documentation, though?

In any event, hopefully by posting this here I will have made life a little easier for the next poor soul who finds himself googling for how to get the arrow keys to work in embedded Python.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Slightly Belated Farewell

I've got a clan of gingerbread men.
Here are men,
There are men,
Lots of gingerbread men.
Take a couple if you wish,
They're on the dish.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

IDT are Scum-Sucking Bastards

I tried to make a phone call today to a friend who doesn't live that far away, but far enough to be a regional call, rather than local, so that it's handled by my regional/long-distance carrier, IDT. After dialing, I get a recorded message that my call was "unauthorized," and that I should call IDT's customer service line for more information. I call, and the automated system reports that my service was terminated on April 30th.

Note that in this little saga, IDT never notified me that they were terminating my service, though I know why. I know because they've done this to me before.

See, IDT has this policy that if you haven't made any calls for something like two months, they "assume" that you've switched long-distance carriers. The fact that they keep sending me bills for $3.95 plus taxes and fees, and I keep paying them, and no other company has told them that I've switched providers, doesn't seem to matter. Oh, and the only way to know that this is their policy is for it to happen to you. At least I haven't been able to find anything else. In fact, their comparison chart showing a couple of their plans against competitors' plans claims there's no minimum calling for this plan.

Once they've stopped your service, the only way to get it back is to call, wait who-knows-how-long, and talk directly with a human being. And then, you still have to wait several days for service to be restored.

Since my local provider (Verizon) offers the same long-distance rate with the same monthly fee, I'll be switching my service over to them. That is, assuming they don't have an inactive termination policy as well. If they do, it's pre-paid calling cards from now on. That, or actually get a cell phone. Since I can't trust anything online, and have to ask a human being to be certain, I can't even switch my service until Monday, at which point I'll still probably have a wait of several days. Unless Verizon don't have their heads up their asses.

I'm certainly not giving those bastards at IDT any more of my money.

Update, 7/10: Verizon do not, it would seem, have their heads up their asses.