“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”


Things I find funny. Your mileage may vary.

RFC 6919

I’m in the middle of several fairly large spec-writing projects at the moment, so this year’s April Fool’s RFC 6919 seemed particularly apt:

The key words “MUST (BUT WE KNOW YOU WON’T)”, “SHOULD CONSIDER”, “REALLY SHOULD NOT”, “OUGHT TO”, “WOULD PROBABLY”, “MAY WISH TO”, “COULD”, “POSSIBLE”, and “MIGHT” in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 6919.

I briefly considered making use of this and waiting to see if anyone noticed. So far, I have resisted the temptation, and am sticking with RFC 2119.


Use Maturity Fruits

Use Maturity Fruits.

Cut the top of the lemon, introduce the part of the tool with the teeths and tur it down.

Your left hand hold the cup, while the right hand twist the lemon and press her softly at variable points.

Serve her directly at the table, squeeze the lemon softly and enjoy the juice wherever you want.

At least put the lemon down in her ceramics vessel.


Bureaucracies and Thermodynamics

Another eternal principle, well put:

Bureaucracies temporarily suspend the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

[from The Collapse of Complex Business Models by Clay Shirky]


How Many Elephants?

I’ve been thinking a fair bit these last few months about the notion of misaligned incentives. Both professionally and in the public policy sphere, people optimise for what’s best for them individually; if you want a particular outcome, you need to make sure that everyone involved has an incentive towards making that outcome a reality.

I recently came across this perfect expression of the idea, which I pass along here without further comment:

It’s true: never let the guy with the broom decide how many elephants can be in the parade.

[Merlin Mann said that.]


Free Cake: Not a Lie

This was a triumph.

I'm making a note here: "Huge Success".

Portal is free for the next few days, on both PC and Mac.

If you've never played it, Portal is pretty hard to describe. Instead, I'll just direct you to the trailer.


Vendor Lock-in

I own two Uninterruptable Power Supply units. Each has a button on the front with which you can perform a self-test; I do this once a month to make sure that they are "still good".

On unit A, you tap the button and it does a self-test. If you press and hold the button then the unit turns off, taking the attached hardware with it.

Unit B (from a different vendor) requires you to hold the button in to perform the self-test. Tapping the button… no, why don't you guess what that does?

Sneakiest attempt at vendor lock-in I think I've ever come across.

RFC 5241 on Naming Rights in IETF Protocols

Not a bad one this year:

This document proposes a new revenue source for the IETF to support standardization activities: protocol field naming rights, i.e., the association of commercial brands with protocol fields. This memo describes a process for assignment of rights and explores some of the issues associated with the process. Individuals or organizations that wish to purchase naming rights for one or more protocol fields are expected to follow this process.

RFC 5241 for the whole thing.


Responsible Behavior

People have observed that this blog can from time to time be characterised as "a nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude". I can't really argue with that, and I have no intention of making any kind of New Year resolution to "mend my ways".

On the other hand, I do sometimes wonder about rating my posts in terms of a new metric: how many Wikipedia entries would you have to reference to explain this to the man on the Clapham omnibus?

One of my favourite cartoon sites — xkcd.com — also finds the need to peg the MOTCO-meter once in a while. Responsible Behavior is a good example; I have to rate it a four at least:

Never bring tequila to a key-signing party.

Do you agree? More interestingly, what do you think the answer will be in ten years?

Helpful Earthquake Suggestions

Remain Clam

I knew the seafood here in San Diego was supposed to be pretty good, but apparently it's also important to hang on to some during natural disasters.


Insecurity Excuse Bingo

In the wake of the Californian voting machine review, Matt Blaze and Jutta Degener invite us to play Security Public Relations Excuse Bingo:

  • We read Schneier's book
  • La, la, la we're not listening
  • You'll be hearing from our lawyers
  • No one would ever think of that
  • Our proprietary encryption algorithms prevent that
  • … and so on ad nauseam

(Via Matt Blaze.)

Alice and Bob... and Bruce

I couldn't resist this T-shirt design from the people who bring us Everyone Loves Eric Raymond and Bruce Schneier Facts.

Obviously this is only going to be funny to (a) a very particular kind of nerd with (b) a very particular sense of humour. I suspect I'm not the only member of both sets, though.

Squid Whistles

These were the prizes found in a couple of “Christmas” crackers this year. They look like they are supposed to be whistles, but just on the off chance that they call something worse, I have not tested them.

How festive!


Baa Humbug

A friend sent us one of these cards this year. It arrived during one of my periodic outbreaks of negative feeling toward the festive season, and quite changed the mood…

[It has been brought to my attention that some of my readers don't know what a humbug is. Well, Wikipedia knows.]


Jonathan Coulton to appear in Second Life

Jonathan Coulton, my favourite writer of songs about robot overlords and uppity zombie co-workers, will be featuring at a Second Life Concert:

OK, this is one that everybody can attend. On September 14th I’ll be playing a show in Second Life (the show starts at 5PM SL time, aka West Coast time). Yes: a virtual show in a virtual world with my virtual self, Yonatan Coalcliff.

Alas, the show starts way past my bedtime over here in PT+8 land, so I’ll just have to hope for some good recordings by people who can be there “in person”. Just as well, really, my Code Monkey avatar is at the cleaners.

(Via Jonathan Coulton.)

Benefits of Getting Old

I’m sure a lot of people I know have had this experience:

Another bonus of advanced age is the accumulation of generally useless knowledge that is nonetheless impressive. After about the age of 40 you start hearing a lot of “How did you know THAT?” If you sum up all of the facts in your head plus your awesome powers of inference plus your exceptional skill at bullshitting, you look like a psychic to anyone under 20.

(Via The Dilbert Blog.)


Bruce Schneier Facts

Everybody loves Eric Raymond is a pretty weird web comic to start with, combining as it often does obscure open-source in-jokes with the premise that Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond and Linus Torvalds all live together in a flat somewhere.

Today’s episode jumps over into the even more obscure realm of crypto in-jokes, with the even weirder premise that Bruce Schneier is actually a cryptographic Chuck Norris.

Clicking through to the interactive Bruce Schneier Facts Database is well worth while. My favourite random fact so far is:

Bruce Schneier doesn’t even trust Trent. Trent has to trust Bruce Schneier.

Obscure enough for you?

Stargate Monkey, Frohman Beta Prime

Jonathan Coulton continues to inspire others to create high art. This week’s must-sees are:


Magic 8-Ball

It seems to be something of a Magic 8-Ball week. First there was a nice article at Daring Fireball about Microsoft’s Zune (warning: creepy rabbit animation).

For the last week or two, Fedora Core 6 test 2 has been scheduled as going into freeze on July the 24th and releasing on the 26th. Now that it’s the 28th, the freeze date has been changed to “no sooner than 27 July” and the release date is:


The latest Fedora board minutes indicate that the main reason for the slip is final integration of the Xen virtual machine monitor. As this is also a blocker for the next release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, it makes sense not to roll on without it.


Cuddly Headcrab

In deference to my more squeamish readers, I won’t post an image showing this excellent plush version of the iconic Half-Life enemy, the Headcrab.

I’m finding, in fact, that people who haven’t played any of the Half-Life series have some kind of mental block that makes them run screaming from the room on seeing this, rather than the more typical “how cute” that you might expect. Well, that you might expect if you are someone who has grown to love the cute little critters, or at least learned to downgrade them to “annoying” after the first few thousand encounters.

Two bits of bad news on the HL2 Headcrab Collectible page: firstly, you can wear them as a hat, but only if you are yourself a quarter-scale model or perhaps a large cat or small dog. Secondly, they are all sold out…


Zombie Air Guitar

I’m trying hard not to blog every little thing that Jonathan Coulton does. He’s making it difficult, though, as for the last month or so he seems to have been on something of a roll. Plus, because his Thing a Week songs are Creative Commons licensed, other talented people are able to get into the act too.

A couple of cases in point are Re: Your Brains and Code Monkey. These are well executed, catchy, desperately funny songs (and in the case of Code Monkey, a little sad too) and both of them now have music videos courtesy of some of the many talented people who are not Jonathan Coulton. In both cases, these movies are machinima, a genre I’ve been interested in since seeing Anachronox: The Movie.

The video for Re: Your Brains is pretty much a straight rendering of the song, with some people cowering indoors while a chorus of zombies mills around outside, expressing their anthropophagic desires. My favourite parts are the zombie air guitar solo and the random rats scurrying around over the set. I assume the latter are just endemic in World of Warcraft, where the video was made.

The Ill Clan’s video for Code Monkey seems to have been made in The Movies. Judging from the web site, that’s a kind of Sim Movie Tycoon kind of game with a machinima engine buried inside. It’s not surprising, then, that this allows much better animation and camera control. The story line is more adventurous, too, but I won’t spoil that for you. I will say: watch out for the bunny rabbit with the sub-machine gun that goes past in the background of one of the shots.

Warning: under no circumstances should the weak-minded view these videos; you’ll be stuck singing “all we want to do is… eat your brains” or “Code Monkey like Fritos” to yourself for the rest of the week, at least. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


The Meeting

I used to spent a fair fraction of my time in meetings; it is one of the lasting joys of a shift to more independent working that this is no longer the case. Chip Morningstar is still very much in that world, though:

I am convinced that the fundamental ontological construct of the universe is The Meeting. The Meeting is one. There is only one Meeting. The Meeting is all.

Chip’s panegyric on The Meeting continues for some time in this vein. Personally, I’d have started to worry when I found myself capitalizing the term.


Chiron Beta Prime

I can't think why I have never before mentioned my appreciation for the music of Jonathan Coulton. After all, he's the singer/songwriter behind such classics as Skullcrusher Mountain (listen), a beautiful love song told from the viewpoint of a deranged megalomaniac scientist to the captive object of his affection. Some people may find the bit about the pony distressing, but it is all clearly "from the heart".

In the same vein, I heartily enjoyed his latest "Thing a Week", Chiron Beta Prime, a Christmas family message from… well, listen and see. I will say that the phrase "robot overlords" appears in the refrain, and…




Chickens are funny. Doug Savage draws, on yellow post-it notes, cartoons of chickens. They are funny, if perhaps a little surreal.

[via Evil Genius Chronicles]


Three Tonne Wombats

Sometimes the headline is all you need or want:

Early Aussies co-existed with three tonne wombats, says Boing Boing.

Disappointingly sober full article at Science Daily.


April Again

Every year on the first of April, it has become the tradition for one or more dodgy RFCs to be published with little or no fanfare. Who can forget 1990’s seminal Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers involving pigeons and duct tape? Or 1993’s Extension of MIME Content-Types to a New Medium in which the matter-transport/sentient-life-form MIME type was first defined?

This year’s first candidate describes Requirements for Morality Sections in Routing Area Drafts. This is pretty obvious stuff, dealing with the moral degeneracy brought about by the internet and the necessity of combating this through appropriate moral strictures in all future internet standards documents. Best laugh:

3.2.2. Jumbo Packets
It is no longer appropriate to refer to “jumbo packets”. Please use the term “capacitorially challenged”.

… although I’d have assumed they would prefer to be referred to as “capacitorially enhanced” myself.

Perhaps less obvious is UTF-9 and UTF-18 Efficient Transformation Formats of Unicode, which would be less funny if it were not an apparently sound technical specification. Admittedly the class of machines (also 9, 15) for which the technical innovation would be interesting is now all but extinct. Thoughtfully, the author provides example PDP-10 assembler code for the encoding and decoding process for those of us who still remember these works of art, and still have assembler manuals gathering dust on our shelves.


The Daily WTF

Subtitled Curious Perversions In Information Technology, The Daily WTF is a collection of found software artifacts that will make most experienced software people look once, do a double-take, then yell "WTF?". Hence the name.

I'm not sure whether to file this one under "Humour" or "Really, really, scarey."

[Thanks to Rod]


This month's edition of the Communications of the ACM has an insert called the Google Labs Aptitude Test, which you can also find on-line.

Looking at the questions, I am way too stupid to work at Google. On the other hand, I like their sense of humour:

  • Question 2: Write a haiku describing possible methods for predicting search traffic seasonality.
  • Question 5: What's broken with Unix? How would you fix it?


Every OS Sucks

I’ve long held that the shift from unquestioning youthful enthusiasm for whatever operating system you grew up with to general disillusionment with all of them (except for ones you’ve written parts of, naturally) is an essential rite of passage. In short, Every OS Sucks and it is just a question of which one is least bad for whatever you want to do right now.

Today, I found that some years back Three Dead Trolls In a Baggie recorded a grumpy song celebrating this grumpy attitude, and you can download Every OS Sucks for free from their Ampcast page. If you’re bandwidth rich, they have a video version too.

[Found through Adam Curry’s audio show.]

[2018-02-20: Removed dead Ampcast link. Video also available on YouTube]



A friend just sent me a link to RFC 1925, The Twelve Networking Truths. Although it is one of the humorous April 1st RFCs (in this case by Ross Callon of the Internet Order of Old Farts), it is also full of genuine truths.

Although I don’t follow the really popular bloggers to any great extent, I had come across Mark Pilgrim because of his columns at xml.com, and I knew he had a blog that was fairly popular. What I didn’t know until a couple of days ago is that Dive Into Mark contains a number of things that are funny, but also full of genuine truths.

If you’re drinking coffee just now, I suggest you put it down somewhere safe. Then read Mark’s essay on “why specs matter”, which he starts off with the statement that most developers are morons, and the rest are assholes. True, true. If you’ve had a really bad day in the standards mines, find relief for your grief in the short but pointed “Unicode Normalization Form C”. Funny; but also so, so true.

The Joy Of Tech (TM)

I’ve never been much of a fan of web comics other than Dilbert, and of course that’s really only a web comic if like me you’re too cheap to buy a newspaper. After an hour or so browsing around and laughing out loud, though, I think The Joy of Tech by Nitrozac and Snaggy has changed my mind.


Spam: "Why Can't You Just..."

Along with computer viruses, spam (however defined) is becoming a significant barrier to actually getting things done with these computer things. Almost everyone would love it if there was an easy solution to the problems spam causes: either a technical solution or a non-technical (legal or social) one would do.


Order of the Phoenix: Unanswered Questions

Please sit down.
I am going to tell you everything.
   — Albus Dumbledore, to Harry Potter

Well, Dumbledore may have finally come clean and answered all of Harry’s questions, but from a technical perspective I feel J. K. Rowling still has some explaining to do. Here are some areas she might consider addressing in the next volume.