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String theory

Jan. 19th, 2011 | 10:46 am

I suspect anyone with more than a passing interest in string theory will get a good laugh out of http://xkcd.com/848/ .

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Fails come in threes...

Oct. 13th, 2010 | 04:25 pm
mood: Meh

1) Last night: Power failure at data centre.
2) This morning: Brain failure.
3) This lunchtime: Water switched off.

1) We may not have a server for the course next week.
2) I can't cope with 1 and 3.
3) Piece of grit stuck in the toilet cistern valve, so I get to take the valve apart to try to release it. Joy.

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[HUMOUR] /dev/trandom or /dev/frandom?

Sep. 26th, 2010 | 10:33 pm
location: The office
mood: whimsical
music: The drone of computer fans

If you don't know UNIX and /dev/random, skip to the next post. Nothing to see here. Move along...

I was musing on the streams of - as The Register so politely puts it - Web2.0rrea and trying to find a use for them. I have it!

Real, genuine entropy - true randomness - is very hard to find in a computer system. Every bit of randomness is treasured; it can take /dev/urandom on Linux systems quite a long time to fill up with enough bits to create a key pair. But what if there were a firehose of randomness, a stream of gibberish so huge that one could choose a small, random part of it and still get a rapid feed of entropy with little chance that an attacker could affect your entropy in a known way? Wouldn't that be just ideal for those high-security TCP sessions, those SSL sessions and so on?

Facebook (/dev/frandom) and Twitter (/dev/trandom) provide just such a firehose. To take Facebook as as example, you could choose a random group of accounts on each (seeded from /dev/urandom, and hence specific to you) and watch the timing of their FarmVille updates, the quizzes they filled in, the places they tagged on Facebook Places, the lolcats they liked... even, if you wanted to really get your hands dirty, the mis-spelled status updates, starred out swearwords and their friends' drunken ramblings on their walls. What better source of entropy than 500M monkeys with typewriters and mobiles?

Or how about Twitter? OK, you'd have to filter out the "I'M ON THE TRAIN" tweets in order to maintain some semblance of randomness, but other than that the compression required to fit one's most poetic thoughts into 140 characters makes it ideal for entropy, as much of the randomness is already present due to the lck f vwls n sm f th twts.

I wonder whether the mobile phone operators are using SMSs for the same purpose?

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Out of Tea Error

Jun. 30th, 2010 | 01:51 pm
mood: Infused

How to fix an out of tea error via FTP for smescrater:

smescrater% ftp twinings.co.uk
Username: earl.grey
Password: Infusiasm
User earl.grey logged in.
Welcome to the emergency Twinings replenishment site.
ftp> physical
Physical transfer enabled.
ftp> get tea.earlgrey.hot.mug
Transferred 1 mug in 10.2 seconds (0.09 mugs/s).
ftp> quit
smescrater% _

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A new dawn in World of Petcraft raiding

Jun. 24th, 2010 | 09:04 pm
location: Amidst a gently swirling mass of multicoloured cat hair
mood: whimsical
music: Grooming noises

A new single-boss raid for World of Petcraft. The boss comprises three sub-bosses: the cats Fermat, Faith and Reason, plus their adds: Drifting Fur and Furballs.

The encounter takes place in a large room with three cat baskets, one on each wall. The entrance is on the fourth side. Various oversized cat toys provide opportunities for line-of-sight tricks. At the start of the encounter, all three cats are asleep until aggroed. The room is full of Drifting Fur, and each cat produces one new Drifting Fur every 10 seconds.

Boss abilities:

1) Unfeasibly Cute. Every 30 seconds, Faith stuns all characters within 40 yards for 5 seconds with a Cuteness attack. This can be avoided by looking away at the relevant time.

2) Unfeasibly Heavy. Every 30 seconds (10 seconds after the Unfeasibly Cute timer), Fermat selects whoever's second on his threat list and pounces on them, pinning them to the floor for 10 seconds and causing 15% of their base health per second in crushing (Nature) damage.

3) Unfeasibly Friendly. Every 30 seconds (20 seconds after the Unfeasibly Cute timer), Reason picks a random character to Charge and mind control. That character can do nothing except Stroke Reason for 10 seconds. Each tick of Stroke produces one Drifting Fur.

4) Furball debuff. Each Beast in the raid (including bear and cat druids and hunter pets) produces one Furball every 25 seconds. The three cats each produce one every 15 seconds.

5) Any melee attack has a 5% chance of producing a Drifting Fur. Any non-fire magic attack similarly has a 5% chance. Fire attacks will never produce Drifting Fur (it's immediately burned); instead, they cause 3 x normal threat as the relevant cat gets irritated at having crispy fur.

Add abilities:

a) Drifting Fur applies one of the Cannot Breathe (5% of base health lost per second), Sneezing Fit (time between attacks increased by 100%) or Coated With Hair (armour loses 1 durability per 10 seconds due to extreme cleaning measures required) debuffs at random to each character within 20 yards. Drifting Fur can only be damaged by [Vacuum Cleaner], a 2-handed weapon (of no particular type) that can be crafted by Engineers, or by its epic equivalent the [Dyson Cleanerless Vacuum Bag]. Drifting Fur lasts 5 minutes, then disappears.

b) Furballs have a 15 yard diameter. Any character who stands in a Furball gains the [Eww, Icky] disease debuff two seconds later, which causes them to spend the next 15 seconds stunned as they clean themselves up. This debuff can be dispelled. Once produced, Furballs remain on the floor until someone stands in them or the encounter ends.

Suggestions for raid tactics to deal with this boss are welcome.

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Here we go again...

Mar. 29th, 2010 | 08:54 pm
mood: Depressed, apparently

Back on the Prozac for the third time around.

Oh well, at least I'll get to update my web page on the side effects again.

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Whoops, I appear to be more allergic to prawns than I thought I was

Mar. 20th, 2010 | 12:04 am
mood: itchy

Just had more prawns than my usual "occasional one" in tea - about a dozen. I promptly came out in a beautiful rash from my scalp to my groin, plus upper arms. It's going down now, luckily, and I had none of the swollen tongue / shortness of breath or other really icky symptoms that would have sent me diving for the phone.

Nevertheless, I ihink I'd better avoid seafood from here on in.

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Idea for a new board game

Mar. 16th, 2010 | 03:25 pm

"Courtroom Drama", the interactive game for budding lawyers! Now with a test of nerve - see if you can twist the truth while not setting off the buzzer on the lie detector!

"It's my turn to litigate!"

(inspired by Operation - and, if you hadn't already noticed, this is humour)

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Passive Aggressive

Mar. 10th, 2010 | 10:14 pm
mood: Indicative

I dislike sentences that are written in the passive voice - especially those with "should" or "must" in them.

There's a simple reason for this. If I write a sentence in the active voice, it's very obvious who's acting: the sentence structure pretty much forces me to say who's talking. But in the passive, I can finesse this issue. It's very easy for me to create apparently complete sentences that don't specify the actor at all, giving an illusion of respectability to some potentially quite extreme views.

Let's examine a few pairs of sentences: first in the passive, then in the active.

"Teenagers shouldn't be allowed out at night."
"The parents of teenagers shouldn't allow them to go out at night."

"Public sector debt needs to be reduced by £180bn over the next ten years."
"The UK government needs to reduce public sector debt by £180bn over the next ten years."

"He should be hanged for what he did."
"Both Houses should pass a change to the law, the jury should convict him unanimously and the judge should sentence him to be hanged for what he did."

"The world should be greener."
"Each of us should act to reduce our impact on the world."

Consider these pairs, if you will. Which would you pick for precision of communication? Which would you pick if you were trying to pinpoint an issue? And which would you pick if you were on a podium during an election campaign trying to sway an audience's opinion?

Don't even get me started on sentences that use "the fog of They" - "they oughtta do something about it".

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The law, lynch mobs and the media

Mar. 8th, 2010 | 04:35 pm

Yeah, what he said

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