Defining Terms

Code Poem at the Astronaut Collective

Last week, for Austronaut Collective 12, someone (not I) submitted a code poem. It was written in Python and I think it’s pretty cool. Currently the indentation is not being preserved on the web page, and since Python is whitespace sensitive this breaks the poem. But I’ve contacted Cooper, the guy who runs the Astronaut Collective, so hopefully it’ll get updated soon with proper whitespace.

Update: Since the poem layout hasn’t been corrected on the Astronaut Collective site, I’ve posted it here:

Project Pain

If mountains could crash like waves
I would have dirt in my teeth
But I will keep climbing.

If rivers could bite like snakes
I would have venom in my veins
But I will keep swimming.

They can’t and I don’t and I will
And my trials will not be chronicled in:

  • The major works of western literature
  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
  • The backs of cereal boxes
  • Future editions of the Koran
  • Saturday morning cartoons

Isn’t that a tragedy?
Add one self-referential line item to the list.

The omissions of my afflictions from all of World Culture
Deserve a dirge.

Thank God for the Internet.

In Soviet America, Navy Brainwashes You!

On the way to work the other day, while listening to an NPR Report on José Padilla, I was struck by the similarities between his story and a 1960 CIA Report on Soviet Brain Washing that I read last summer. The CIA studied the handling of prisoners by the Communist governments of the U.S.S.R. and China. The report chronicles the way both foreigners and citizens of the respective countries were arrested, held without charge, tortured, interrogated, and eventually made to confess whatever the interrogators wanted them to. The striking part is how much this process almost exactly mirrors the actions of the U.S. government against José Padilla. Read both reports in full for the complete effect, but here are some excerpts that are particularly similar.

  • The prisoner is kept in complete isolation except for his interrogations.


    According to court papers filed by Padilla’s lawyers, for the first two years of his confinement, Padilla was held in total isolation. He heard no voice except his interrogator’s. His 9-by-7 foot cell had nothing in it: no window even to the corridor, no clock or watch to orient him in time.

    CIA (pg 16):

    An almost invariable feature of the management of any important suspect under detention is a period of total isolation in a detention cell. The prisoner is placed within his cell, the door is shut, and for an indefinite period he is totally isolated from human contact except by the specific direction of the officer in charge of the case. He is not allowed to talk to the guards or to communicate with other prisoners in any manner.

  • The prisoner is subjected to a carefully planned program of bright light, prolonged standing, and sleep deprivation. This is painful and disorienting.


    He was either in bright light for days on end or in total darkness. He had no mattress or pillow on his steel pallet; loud noises interrupted his attempts to sleep.

    Sometimes it was very cold, sometimes hot. He had nothing to read or to look at. Even a mirror was taken away. When he was transported, he was blindfolded and his ears were covered with headphones to screen out all sound. In short, Padilla experienced total sensory deprivation.

    During length interrogations, his lawyers allege, Padilla was forced to sit or stand for long periods in stress positions. They say he was hooded and threatened with death. The isolation was so extreme that, according to court papers, even military personnel at the prison expressed great concern about Padilla’s mental status.

    CIA (pg 17):

    At all times except when he is eating, sleeping, exercising, or being interrogated, the prisoner is left strictly alone in his cell. He has nothing to do, nothing to read, and no one to talk to. Under the strictest regimen he may have to sit or stand in his cell in a fixed position all day. He may sleep only at hours prescribed for sleep. Then he must go to bed promptly when told and must lie in a fixed position upon his back with his hands outside the blanket. If he deviates from this position, the guard outside will awaken him and make him resume it. The light in his cell burns constantly. He must sleep with his face constantly toward it.

    CIA (pg 24):

    The constant light in the cell and the necessity of maintaining a rigid sleep position in bed produce sleep disturbances; and the guards can awaken the prisoner at intervals. This is especially effective if the prisoner is awakened just as he drops off to sleep. Continued loss of sleep produces clouding of consciousness and a loss of alertness, both of which impair the victim’s ability to sustain isolation.

    Another simple and effective type of pressure is that of maintaining the temperature of the cell at a level which is either too hot or too cold for comfort. Continuous heat, at a level at which constant sweating is necessary in order to maintain body temperature, is enervating and fatigue producing. Sustained cold is uncomfortable and poorly tolerated.

    CIA (35-36):

    Continuous and repetitive interrogation is an effective and very common form of pressure. Another which is widely used is that of requiring the prisoner to stand throughout the interrogation session or to maintain some other physical position which becomes painful. This, like other features of the MVD procedure, is a form of physical torture, in spite of the fact that the prisoners and MVD officers alike do not ordinarily perceive it as such. Any fixed position which is maintained over a long period of time ultimately produces excruciating pain. Certain positions, of which the standing position is one, also produce impairment of the circulation.

    Many men can withstand the pain of long standing, but sooner or later all men succumb to the circulatory failure it produces. After 18 to 24 hours of continuous standing, there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the legs. This dependent “edema” is produced by the extravasation of fluid from the blood vessels. The ankles and feet of the prisoner swell to twice their normal circumference. The edema may rise up the legs as high as the middle of the thighs. The skin becomes tense and intensely painful. Large blisters develop which break and exude watery serum. The accumulation of the body fluid in the legs produces an impairment of the circulation. The heart rate increases and fainting may occur. Eventually there is a renal shutdown, and urine production ceases. Urea and other metabolites accumulate in the blood. The prisoner becomes thirsty, and may drink a good deal of water, which is not excreted, but adds to the edema of his legs. Men have been known to remain standing for periods as long as several days. Ultimately they usually develop a delirious state, characterized by distortion, fear, delusions, and visual hallucinations. This psychosis is produced by a combination of circulatory impairment, lack of sleep, and uremia.

  • The prisoner eventually succumbs to the torture and not only becomes completely compliant, but also condemns himself and supports his captors in his own mind. This is not merely an act, but the prisoner actually believes what he is saying.


    There is no indication that Padilla is faking it, Hegarty says. To the contrary, Padilla denies that he has any problems and tends to identify with the government’s interests more than his own.

    For example, Padilla thought his lawyers were unfair in their rigorous questioning of the FBI agents who arrested him at O’Hare airport.

    CIA (pgs 45-46):

    The way in which a prisoner reacts to the whole process of interrogation is to a great extent dependent upon the manner of man he is, his pre-existing attitudes and beliefs, and the circumstances surrounding his arrest and imprisonment. All prisoners have this in common: They have been isolated and have been under unremitting pressure in an atmosphere of hostility and uncertainty. They all find themselves in a dilemma at the time that the interrogation begins. The regimen of pressure and isolation has created an overall discomfort which is well nigh intolerable. The prisoner invariably feels that something must be done to find a way out. Death is denied him. Ultimately, he finds himself faced with the choice of continuing interminably under the intolerable pressures of his captors or accepting the way out which the interrogator offers. The way out is a rationalization. It allows the prisoner to meet the demands of his interrogator by degrees, while at the same time retaining within himself some shred of belief that by his own standards he has not capitulated. The rationalization may be – and very often is – so patently absurd and untrue that the victim, in his “right might”, would be utterly incapable of accepting it. But he is not in his right mind. His capacity to distinguish true from false, or good from bad, has been deliberately undermined. With rare exceptions prisoners accept this way out, provided the pressures are prolonged and intense and the interrogator can effectively adjust his persuasiveness.

    Continued on page 47:

    Non-Communist prisoners of idealistic beliefs or socialist sympathies apparently make ready targets for the logic of the interrogator. Such persons are usually compelled to agree that the ostensible and idealistic motives of the Communist Party are “good”, and that those who oppose these ideals are “bad”. The rationalization in this case takes the form of getting the prisoner to say that the Communist Party has the same value system that he does; something which the prisoner agrees is “bad” by his own definition.

Although the term is rarely used today, the treatment of José Padilla was described by the CIA as “brainwashing”. The report states that the program was specifically developed for this purpose and is extremely effective.

CIA (pg 18):

This regimen within the detention cell is in itself a most potent weapon in the hands of the MVD. It has been developed and refined over a period of many years and used on literally thousands of prisoners. It is highly effective in “breaking the will” of prisoners – so much that many MVD officers are convinced that there is literally no man who cannot be brought to do their bidding.

Of course, the treatment of Padilla is not exactly analogous with the Soviet prisoner handling. For example, the Russians had to bring their prisoners before a judge and charge them with a crime, a luxury Padilla did not have for three years, and that many other prisoners of the U.S. no longer have.

CIA Report (page 28):

Soviet law specifies that, if a man is detained on suspicion, the first protocol of his interrogation must be given to the state prosecutor within ten days so that an arrest warrant may be issued, or the man may be released.

And finally, in the most powerful and, in light of the current administration’s thoughts on the matter, unexpected statement of the report, the CIA names such treatment of prisoners as torture.

CIA Report (page 25):

The effects of isolation, anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, uncomfortable temperatures, and chronic hunger produce disturbances of mood, attitudes, and behavior in nearly all prisoners. The living organism cannot entirely withstand such assaults.

The Communists do not look upon these assaults as “torture”. Undoubtedly, they use the methods which they do in order to conform, in a typical legalistic manner, to Communist theory which demands that “no force or torture be used in extracting information from prisoners.” But these methods do constitute torture and physical coercion and should never be considered otherwise.

Code Poetry

A few months ago I was at a party and ran into the guy who runs the Astronaut Collective. Caroline Miller was also there (work) and we started having a conversation about code poetry. Unfortunately, I don’t think they really got it. Neither of them are programmers and they were more familiar with digital poetry like Puppy Flowers and UBU WEB, so I don’t think they understood the difference between code poetry and digital poetry.

What I was talking about is poetry written in computer programming language. Usually, it has to be at least compilable, but sometimes it is even executable (see Jabberwocky in the link below). Due to its flexible and conversational nature, Perl has often been used to write code poetry. In the article Jabberwocky and, there is a brief description of the history of code poetry, finishing with a description of the brilliant poem is a triptych that reinterprets both the text of William Blake’s ”London” and the relief etching that he used in his books of poetry. High resolution copies of the panels are available at the Mongrel web site, but the files are huge and they don’t have a text transcription of them. I emailed the contact address at the old Mongrel X site for permission to reproduce it, but got no response. I’ll just assume they’re fine with me distributing it, especially given the new mongrel.xorg site.

So, here are some more usable copies of


Visual Studio and OpenAFS

Since I’m learning C# for work, I decided to install the Visual Studio .NET 2003 on my home computer, which I got for free from the U of M MSDN subscription. Unfortunately I struggled for several hours trying to get it to work. The setup would make it through the prerequisites, then at the screen that said “Setup is loading installation components. This may take a minute or two.” the progress bar would make it all the way to the right, the window would lose focus, and it would just hang.

Visual Studio Setup Hangs

The Task Manager reports that it is still in the Running state (as opposed to Not Responding), but nothing happens. I found other people with the problem via some Google searches, but most of them had installed a beta version of the software and not uninstalled it or had a virus scanner running, which seems to mess things up. I tried removing my .NET Framework installations, adding IIS, freeing up more space on the C drive, and even letting the setup window stay up for several hours in the hope that it would eventually complete. None of this helped. I even tried installing Visual Studio .NET 2005, with the same result.

Then, tipped off by the virus scanner problems, I decided to disable my OpenAFS service, which mounts remote directories as local drives. Once that was done, the installer moved on. In case you have OpenAFS running and want to install Visual Studio, here are the steps to disable it:

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Double click on “AFS Client Configuration”.
  3. Click the “Stop Service” button.
  4. Click OK on the confirmation dialog box.

This will allow you to install Visual Studio. After the installation is done, you can enable AFS again by clicking on the “Start Service” button.

Kinda Done

Yesterday I took the last exam of graduate school. What a great birthday present! At 5:30pm I was done with school for years to come. Kinda.

You would think that satisfying the requirements for a degree in December of 2005 would get you a diploma that says December 2005 on it. But you would be wrong. You have to complete all of the requirements and also turn in a diploma application two weeks before the end of the semester. How did I find this out? I actually pulled out the 42 page degree requirements document to make sure I wasn’t missing anything for graduation. Apparently I was.

So I went down to the CSE Graduate offices today and asked if I can still graduate in 2005. Nope, sorry, you can’t apply for a degree after the last day of classes. That was on Tuesday. The diplomas won’t be mailed out for 12 weeks. One might think my name could still be snuck into the pile over at the diploma office, but rules is rules.

Additionally, I was promptly reprimanded because Dawn sent out emails a long time ago to everyone about this. This was news to me. So I came back home and searched through all of my past emails with terms like “diploma”, “application”, “blue sheet”, and even “graduate.” What did I find? Nothing. Nada. Nichts. I guess it’s possible I didn’t read an email or two and deleted it, so they’re not longer searchable. So I went further. Guess what? I’ve never ever gotten a single email from Dawn. I’m getting pretty suspicious that I have never received information from her and that the department never included me on these informational emails. If I hadn’t decided to read through the entire graduate student requirements document, I never would have known that I wasn’t going to ever graduate. Needless to say, I’m not pleased with this.

Fortunately, this all doesn’t change things much. It seems they don’t actually check to see if you belong at commencement so my dear family can still watch me participate in the ceremony on Sunday. My job at Siemens is not contingent upon graduation by a certain date, so as long as I don’t lose my job in the next 6 months, I guess it doesn’t really matter if it says 2005 or 2006 on my diploma. Even so, it’s annoying that it will be July before I get my diploma I earned this month.

Update: Apparently the information about graduation requirements gets sent out to one or more CSEG Lists. According to the CSEG site “CSE graduate students are automatically subscribed to cseg when they enter the program.” While there is every indication that I’m a CSE graduate student, I was not subscribed to any of these lists, and in fact had never heard of them until today. Whoever did not put my email address on these lists when I enrolled at U of M, I’m holding you personally responsible for delaying my graduation by 4 months. If you could only see my annoyed and disappointed face right now, you would cringe, whoever you are.

Update #2: I went back to the CSE office and talked to Dawn, who apparently knows something about UofM, which the previous person did not. I can petition the regents for correction of my graduation date and the next time they meet in the capacity to do that kind of thing, I’ll get my diploma. They only meet in this way once or twice a year, so it might be summer or fall before it happens, but in the meantime I can get verification that I’ve completed the requirements for graduation and the diploma is on the way. So, it seems that all is well.

Update #3 (2006.04.19): I have turned in the petition for a backdated diploma, so I should hopefully have it in the next 6 months.


A few days ago, I was reminded of an essay recommended to me by Jim called The Economy of Ideas: Selling Wine Without Bottles on the Global Net (a more readable PDF version). After over four years, I finally got around to reading it, and I’m sorry I took so long. I recommend it for anyone thinking about Intellectual Property, Copyright law, and software development.

One reason I looked up the article is that I was trying to explain to a couple of friends of mine that copyright infringement is distinct from stealing, both under US law and philosophically. Under the law, copyright infringement is simply separate from theft. If you copy and distribute VHS tapes of movies without authorization from the owner of the movies, you will not be charged with stealing anything, but rather copyright infringement.

Philosophically, theft and copyright infringement are also very different. I’ve heard some say “If you copy a CD instead of buying it, you’re stealing the $15 from the makers of the CD.” This is incorrect for two reasons.

First, theft requires that you take something from someone else. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition defines theft as:

The action of a thief; the felonious taking away of the personal goods of another; larceny; also, with a and pl., an instance of this.

If I literally steal the plastic disc from a music store, I have taken away the goods of another, and am therefore stealing. However, making a copy of something does not take anything away from someone else, as long as they still have the original copy. The “taking away” in my CD quote happens in this theoretical realm of what might have happened, had I not made the copy. This is a philosophically very different realm than that of actual, physical theft.

The second reason that this “stealing $15 from the makers of the CD” reasoning is not correct is that, even given that a theft has taken place, it is not clear from whom one has stolen. If I take a physical object (an apple, for example), it is very clear from whom I have stolen: whoever owned the apple before I had possession. However, suppose I have a machine that can make an exact physical copy of apples from a distance, without modifying the original apple in any way. Say I’m walking down the street with my apple copier and see someone walking on the other side of the street with an apple in her hand. Using my machine, I make a copy of this apple, and now have a new apple in my hand, while the passerby has not even noticed anything happened. In this case, from whom have I stolen? The person with the apple still can eat her lunch, and does not feel that a theft has taken place, so it’s surely not her. Is it the store from which she bought the apple, or maybe the store from which I would have bought the apple, had I not copied hers? If the former, I may not even know where that is, or it might not exist anymore. If the latter, this could be any number of stores, all of which would then be entitled to the cost of my apple. Neither of these seem right. Perhaps I have stolen from the apple grower that would have grown the apple that I would have bought from some store, had I not copied the passerby’s apple. Again, this does not seem correct. It is simply not clear from whom I have stolen the apple, which distinguishes it sharply from actual theft.

Besides all of which, if I did have such an apple copying machine, I would never get accused of theft. No one would be able to report a crime, there is no property to be returned, and no one has suffered from my actions. For all of these reasons, copyright infringement is completely other than theft. Of course, it benefits those who want more stringent copyright laws to associate copyright infringement with stealing and “piracy,” so they do it. This should probably be considered propaganda, and understood within this context.

None of this leads to the conclusion that copyright infringement is therefore moral or legal. It is certainly not legal in the US today, and it is probably not moral. The actual interesting question is: What constitutes copyright infringement? Many would say that making a single copy for personal use, when no exchange of money or goods occurs, is not copyright infringement. Under US law, this may very well fall under the “fair use” clause of traditional copyright law. This is a question that, at least legally, will likely be answered by case law in the US some time in the near future.

Interestingly enough, after thinking about these distinctions for several days this week, I was robbed last night, for the first time in my life. While at the Broken Social Scene concert in Detroit last night, Chad’s car was broken into. The front passenger window was smashed, and Olivia and my backpacks were stolen. Fortunately, there was nothing of great value in the backpack, and my wallet and keys were with me at the concert, so I don’t have to go through the hassle of canceling my credit cards and such. Unfortunately, one of my textbooks, all of my notes from all of my classes, my planner, a pair of prescription sunglasses, and some USB drives were in the backpack. All of my school notes and planner are irreplacable, in that the stolen goods were the only copies in existence of them. And who wants to buy a $94 textbook twice? Why couldn’t the thieves have brought along their apple copiers instead?

Update Apr 26, 2006: While it has long been apparent to me that these ideas are in no way new or original to me, I received a special confirmation of this today when I came across a section of a letter by Thomas Jefferson who says the same thing in different words, only about patents rather than copyright. In each case, all of the philosophical ideas apply to all forms of intellectual property.

I’m a Convert

I used to use Movable Type. Back in the spring of 2003 when I started using it, MT was very cool. But then, about a year later, the authors changed their licensing. This kept me from being able to upgrade the software. For a long time that wasn’t a big deal. No one cared enough to crack my site, and it did what I needed it to. However, the rise of comment spam meant that my site started to get lots of unwanted comments, and MT 2.6 simply wasn’t designed to deal with it. Recently it’s been really bad. This is a screenshot from earlier today:

Over 3000 pieces of comment spam

Of the 3119 comments on the site, less than 50 of them were legitimate. And that’s just from the last few weeks.

In addition to getting so many comments, the Movable Type interface for deleting the spam was atrocious. It required four clicks for each piece of spam. When I was cleaning them up regularly, it was taking me 15-20 minutes a day to get rid of them. Something had to be done.

I’ve been following WordPress for quite some time now, and when started up last summer, it was running WordPress from the beginning. It’s a great piece of Open Source software, and has a few features to fight comment spam. These include ways of preventing the spam from getting through in the first place, and a better interface for deleting it if it does. Clearly, WordPress would be much better for me than MT was. The thing that was holding me back was my theme. I had spent a lot of time creating the theme for my site, and it can’t easily be transfered to WordPress. Also, I was getting a bit tired of the ugly green design, and wanted to do a complete overhaul of it. Eventually though, the comment spam was getting so bad that I decided to just switch, grab an already made theme, and save the redesign for later. So, this is the result.

Unfortunately, some things are broken for the time being. My pictures are not available, permalinks don’t work yet, and images either. Hopefully I’ll be inspired to get a new theme done and get everything working pretty soon. If not, enjoy this cute look for now.

Plugged In

As anyone who likes rock shows will tell you, concerts are too loud. You’ll seriously hurt your hearing if you go to very many of them (especially if they’re long, causing prolonged stress on the ears). So, the rock fans all wear earplugs at shows. Until recently, I was using the standard foam earplugs. While these keep enough sound out, they don’t do it uniformly. I had often noticed how the music and speaking is quite muffled by the foam plugs. They tend to dampen the higher frequencies more than the lower ones, so the vocals and guitars get dominated by the bass.

A few weeks ago I ordered a pair of fancy-schmancy earplugs from a company down near Chicago. Unfortunately, they came one day late for me to use them at the Bloc Party show, so the Jucifer and Dysrhythmia show on Thursday night was the first time I could really test them out. The difference between the foam earplugs and these earplugs was like night and day. The music sounded completely clear across its entire range. Whether it was the high pitched guitar solos of Dysrhythmia’s math-prog-metal, or the falsetto singing of Jucifer’s drummer, the music sounded balanced and distinct. All this for $18, including shipping and handling. At ten bucks a show, it’s a small investment to be able to really hear the music I’m paying to hear.