You work for NBC, and you need a picture of the Pope for a news story about the Pope's continuing decline in health. There are thousands of pictures to choose from, but there are also thousands of stories on the Pope, and you want something a little different. So you decide to search Google for images of the Pope. The first result of your search is a standard picture of the Pope holding a cross - none too interesting. But the second picture has the Pope making a funny face, which is interesting, and you might like to use that picture. So you click through, and that's when you come to my website.

Today I discovered that my website is the second result for a Google image search for "pope." I discovered this after I got a message on my phone from someone at NBC, who wanted to know where I got the picture from. I got the picture from a friend, who I suspect has long since forgotten where he found it. But that's not the important point here. The important point is that out of 122,000 pictures of the Pope found by Google, mine is somehow considered the 2nd most relavent. There's a lot of topics I think I know a lot about, but the Pope is not one. There's something wrong with any search engine that points people searching for the Pope to me. I am not the Pope. I'm not even sure that picture is really the Pope.

 

I have taken to making chocolate covered foods in the past few months. I started with a recipe a coworker gave me for thin mint cookies. I most recently made chocolate-covered strawberries, which are the easiest thing I've made, but the most impressive to others. People at work went on and on saying "Wow Scott, you made these strawberries?! Great job!" as if I had actually grown the strawberries.

They liked the thin mints too, but were less enthusiastic, which is ironic since they are more difficult to make. Most of the work is in the dipping, and strawberries are easy because they come with a dipping mechanism (the leaves) attached, so they don't need to be completely covered. It isn't easy to completely cover something in chocolate while holding it. The trick is to put a bit too much chocolate on. That way when you remove whatever you were holding it with - I've been using a platic fork with the middle two prongs snapped off - the excess chocolate will fill the void it leaves.

melted chocolate

Another difficulty in making chocolate covered foods is melting the chocolate. If you want to melt chocolate, you should do it in a double-boiler to prevent it from heating too quickly. If chocolate is too cold, it won't run smoothly until it's heated, but if it gets too hot, it coagulates and it won't run smoothly ever again. I know this because I've done it wrong a few times. Yesterday I was trying to explain something to a friend of mine with whom I often have heated discussions, and it occurred to me that discussions heat like chocolate. If they get too hot, they'll won't run smoothly ever again. I know this because I've done it wrong a few times.

 

The discussion in Shelley's post about degrading gracefully prompted me to write my second Firefox Greasemonkey script. Degradr replaces the pointless flash-embedded images on flickr.com with plain images. I'm always wanting to copy images I see on flickr to use as desktop backgrounds, but the flash interface makes this too much trouble. (Maybe that's the purpose?) With Degradr, the images are just like any other image, so I can copy, zoom, and do everything else Firefox let's me do with images.

 

In a comment to my post about the RSS filter I made, Herr Theoretiker wrote I like this feature; however, would it be possible to create a filter that *includes* certain keywords instead of *excluding* them? I want to filter out the Homestar Runner feed to only include messages with "Strongbad email" in the title. I'm always eager to make stuff people will use, and especially so when I know they intend to use it in the pursuit of Strongbad emails. So I added what Herr asked for to the RSS filter. You can now do positive (must include) and/or negative (must not include) filters.

 

The Terri Schiavo case, the American Catholic Church's decision to more aggressively oppose capital punishment, and the seemingly endless abortion debate are all life and death issues that spawn passionate arguments on either side. But it seems to me the vast majority of these arguments focus more on the passions than the issues. So much so that one could easily hear arguments on both sides and conclude that they are talking about two completely different issues.

Consider a liberal understanding of conservative positions: they support life of something as abstract as a clump of stem cells, but betray those values when it comes to actual people accused of a capital crime. Conversely, the conservative understanding of liberal positions: they support the life of a convicted killer, but not that of an innocent baby. I think these are both misrepresenting the opposition. Misrepresentation starts as dishonesty, but in this case it's been going on for so long that most people actually believe it. It's moved from dishonesty to ignorance. Ignorance won't help win an argument, so both sides should have an incentive to better understand the other.

I personally take the liberal position on all of these issues, but I think both sides rest on basic convictions that are reasonable and generally ignored. A basic liberal position might be that anyone with the capicity to make intelligent choices about their own life or death should be free to do so. A basic conservative position might be that anyone with the capicity to make intelligent choices should be held responsible for those choices.

So convicted killers should be held responsible for their choices to murder through the death penalty, or convicted killers should retain the right to choose when they should die, from respective conservative or liberal perspectives. And women with unwanted pregnancies should be held responsible for their choices by being compelled to give birth, or they should be free to choose to terminate their pregnancies (so long as the fetus lacks the capicity for intelligent choice.)

These positions leave plenty of room for argument. There's the general argument: which is more important, freedom or responsibility? And specific arguments such as: how do we decide who has the capacity to make intelligent choices? But few are having these arguments. Instead, nearly everyone involved is attributing disagreement to pure malice and talking past each other. I suspect we will all come to regret this.

 

In a comment to my post about Myspace RSS feeds, michael asked How bout a rss feed for comments? You can now get an RSS (2.0) feed for Myspace comments on any user profile. Enjoy.

 

It seems all the cool kids are critiquing and/or getting rid of Google ads, but I'm holding out. I like the idea of targetted advertising, as it promises to add value to, rather than distract from content. For example, if I'm reading about a used Honda for sale, I would appreciate some links to companies selling related products, such as the used Honda parts ads I currently see on my Honda sale post (since sold). On the other side, of course, I like reducing my website expenses.

Shelley apparently had a problem with oil rig ads showing up in her post opposing drilling in ANWR. I only wish my ads worked so well. Too many of my posts display ads for weblog tools. The navigational text on every page seems to be overpowering the actual content in Google's topic-determination algorhythm. I'm going to revamp my weblog so that post titles are more prominantly part of the URL, and descriptions are more descriptive. If this doesn't make my ads more relevant, I'll consider getting rid of them. But I'm defining relevancy liberally.

I don't mind when pro-Bush ads show up in my anti-Bush posts. That's related, if ironically so. I have a faith that knowledge is ultimately good. That's why I regularly read authors with whom I regularly disagree. If I'm interested in an issue, I'm also interested in dissenting opinions on that issue. So this doesn't bother me as it apparently does others.

Nor do I think the internet is succeptable to the same corruption as the real world, as Jonathon implies when he writes I can hardly bear to watch as the Talleyrands corrupt something that was, for a while, magical. In the real world the corrupt have the power to change the rules for everyone else. Talleyrand, for example, used his power working under Napoleon to kill people. But the internet's structure makes analogous activities impossible. Not only could you not possibly kill me via the internet, but you can't even make me read something I find uninteresting. Every online transaction requires consent by everyone involved. If I don't want you reading my website, I can tell my server to stop responding to requests from you (so long as I can identify you). That's what makes AFP's lawsuit against Google ridiculous.

tornado

Likewise, if you don't want to see my ads, you can install a Greasemonkey script to block these ads, as Jonathon did. The only problem is that those who, like me, find the ads occassionally valuable don't currently have the option of adding them where they don't exist. So we are losing what to us is useful functionality when these ads are taken away. But I'm not about to tell, or even ask, website owners to add Google ads just to make me happy. Why would I, when I can do it myself?

I made my first Greasemonkey script, Add Google Ads, which adds Google ads to the top of every page (requires Firefox and Greasemonkey). For the curious, Jonathon's anti-Google ad post has Google ads for "Free Instant Ordination" and "Abbott Church Goods," while Shelley's has ads for "Directional Drilling" and "Rotary Steerable Tools." Hmm ... maybe this isn't as useful as I had thought it would be.

As they say, it don't take weather.com to see which way the wind blows. But what makes the internet magical for me is all the counter-currents. You can remove ads from my site, I can add ads to yours, and we can all be happy in this tornado.

 

Gabe writes:

Before we got to the final cordon of police surrounding us, we passed two young men in business suits. One man gave me his business card that read, "50% OFF: Mobile Protest Area (for 30 minutes, $5 for additional 30 minutes): EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH AT 1/2 THE COST: FREE ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT PICKET SIGN RENTAL WITH THIS COUPON (or $3 for 30 minutes) -- Kids in FREE with Paying Adult -- [then in very small font] -- brought to you by Clear Channel.??" Then the other one produced a black box and pointed it at my head and took a Polaroid of my face and held it out to me shouting: "Commemorate your time here at this anti-establishment protest! Yours for only 8 dollars!"

I missed those guys. Probably around the same time I was reading a sign near the Libertarian demonstrator table. The sign had a phone number: "1-800-ELECTUS." I commented on how desperate that phone number seemed - no issues at all, just "elect us." Then we crossed the street to get a gander at the counter-demonstrators. When I saw the Libertarian counter-demonstrators, I felt sorry for the Libertarian Party, protesting against itself.

My favorite sign of the day was an outline of America with the words "Free Speech Zone" printed over it. As I was being pushed by a police horse into a crowd of people who weren't moving, I asked the officer standing next to me where exactly I was to go. He said "on the curb." I said "but the curb is full of people." He said "I know." I guess that's the bright side of the gradual restriction of free speech in America: the curb is always full of people, and the police know.

 

A few weeks ago I watched a Nova segment on mirror neurons, which are cells in our brians that activate both when we do something and when we see other people do the same thing. For example, when we smile certain neurons are active in our brains, when we see others smile, a different set of neurons are active, and those that are active in both situations are mirror neurons. These neurons are how we learn, how we relate to others, and largely the foundation of all civilization. So I was watching this with some interest when, towards the end, the topic turned to autism.

For nearly everyone I know, autism is defined as the condition Dustin Hoffman had in Rain Man. Some theorize that a lack of functional mirror neurons causes autism. The theory is that autistic people don't have enough working mirror neurons, so they have trouble picking up subtle social cues. When they see someone make a particular face to express some emotion, they don't learn what that face means. And eventually they grow to prefer activities they do understand, such as the Legos an autistic boy plays with in the Nova video I watched. There is a woman in this scene, presumably a scientist of some sort, watching the boy playing with Legos, studying him. When I saw that, I remembered a very similar scene from my own childhood, and suddenly I began wondering if I might be autistic.

There was a time during my childhood when a woman would regularly come to my house to watch me play with tinker toys. She would give me a pile of tinker toys, show me a picture of a completed object made of tinker toys, and then I would try to construct the object. The only object I remember was a ferris wheel, probably because it took me a long time to make.

It turns out that had nothing to do with autism. I called my mom and asked her about it, and she told me that the woman was doing some sort of study on how different parenting styles affect children. My mom was also rather dismissive of my thoughts that I might be autistic. She suggested I learn more about autism. My mother was a grade school teacher and has had a few autistic students, so I thought if she didn't think I might be autistic, it wasn't worth further investigation.

But then I started writing a new song, and it ended up being about an autistic kid. I started reading more about autism to finish the song. Then I came across a description of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night," a book Jessica happened to give me for Christmas because she thought I would enjoy it (I did). It turns out the narrator of the book is autistic.

As I read more and more about autism, I increasingly felt like I was reading about myself. Descriptions such as "prefers to be alone" and "little or no eye contact" (from the Autism Society of America) could probably describe any introvert. Many people who know me would say these phrases don't describe me. I think that's largely because I'm faking it. Almost all eye contact I make is a conscious effort to act normal. I know normal people make eye contact and I try to do the same. Most people make eye contact without thinking about it, but I generally don't.

Other descriptions of autistic behavior seem more specifically desriptive of me. For example, computer programming is popular among autistics, according to the Wikipedia article on autism, and I like to program. I think the "excessively lines up toys or other objects" characteristic, also from Wikipedia, is what really convinced me that I was on to something. My co-workers point out how odd it is that my thumb tacks are sorted by color, and my rubber bands by size and thickness. I don't know anyone else who does this.

Not everything is in its place in my apartment, but everything has a place. I can look at something and know where it should go. And it bothers me when Jessica is staying with me and there is suddenly stuff laying around that I am unable to put in a place, if only conceptually. I previously thought I was just strange in these ways, but now I have a name for this strangeness.

Initially, that name was "maybe autism." After too many comparisons to "Rain Man" I briefly tried describing what I thought was "very mild autism," but most people imagine autism is an either/or condition, rather than the wide spectrum that it is. It was suggested to me that I might have Asperger's syndrome rather than autism, and this is the current name I'm using. I choose this name not so much because I think it's more descriptive - I don't even know what the difference is between asperger's syndrome and "mild autism," though I gather there is one - but because it reliably avoids comparisons to "Rain Man."

I haven't yet spoken with anyone who seems to know more about this than I do. Nut like any good case of Asperger's, I trust the judgement of an automated computer program over a person anyway (just kidding ... sort of). I think I took the Wired AQ test when it first made rounds a few years ago, and I vaguely remember scoring just short of autistic and being surprised by this. I took it again recently and scored solidly autistic this time. I'm sure the score increase can be attributed to different expectations the two times I took the test, but both times point toward what I now strongly suspect: that I have Asperger's syndrome.

So what now? I've already found this bit of self-knowledge much more useful than previous bits. My Myers-Briggs classification is INTJ, which Michael Barrish recently pointed out is a nice way of saying "asshole." When I first learned that, I promptly forgot it until I recently went back to take a test and verify that I am, in fact, an asshole. And then there was the time I thought I had synaesthesia. Nothing has come of that. I guess time will tell what comes from my newest self-classification.

 

I'm using standard capitalization from here (or actually the previous post) on out. A few years ago I wrote about my reasons for not capitalizing: laziness. But these days I type enough in contexts outside of this weblog that it actually takes more effort to shift (no pun intended) myself into no-caps mode here.

This is sort of a mirror of my experience with hair. I ocassionally stop shaving or getting haircuts because I tire of the chores, but eventually the longer hair becomes more trouble than cutting it. I suspect there's some metaphor here for life in general, but I'm too lazy to formulate it properly.

 

Cory Doctorrow writes on boingboing:

As with last year, Slashdot's RSS server has banned the entire O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference from pulling its RSS feeds. There are about 400 geeks here running RSS readers that are pulling Slashdot's feed from behind the same IP address, as Slashdot's systems have interpreted this as one user repeatedly reloading it.

Why didn't any of those 400 geeks at the Emerging Tech conference emerge some tech (e.g. a local cache) in the past year to prevent this problem?

 

shelley kindly notified me that the comment forms were gone. a little investigation revealed that they weren't actually gone; they were just not showing up. too much time spent in further investigation led me to the conclusion that display:table was yet again to blame, and should not be used by mere CSS mortals like myself. however, i don't know how else to make pages with giant images look good, so i'm continuing to use it on a more limited basis. i'm sure i'll discover shortly that this is still breaking things, and give up on display:table altogether.

 

i thought my spring cleaning was going pretty well until i saw that shelley has returned and redesigned her site, reminding me that i have no idea what i'm doing with design. oh well.

 

here's a fun game for OS X people: create a text file with this line:

html { display: table; }

save it as fun.css, open safari's preferences, and add this file as your custom stylesheet. now go visit some webpages and watch as they melt and/or explode. you can also play this game in any application that uses safari's rendering engine and allows custom stylesheets, such as netnewswire. fun times.

 
i changed the style on randomchaos. it's been a while. i'm still adjusting to the relative lack of green, but i think i'll leave it like this for a while. i haven't done much work on the site in a long time. i'm going to do some spring cleaning around here now.