A T. Rex is Reading My Mind!

by wjw on May 17, 2018

This edition of Dinosaur Comics pretty much sums what’s been going on in my head since I bought the latest model MacBook.

If part of this isn’t showing up on your screen (darn MacBook anyway!), click on the art to get the whole picture.

comic2-3290Copyright (c) 2018 by the excellent Ryan North.


Cosmic Coincidence

by wjw on May 17, 2018

IMG_2794The moon and Venus appeared together tonight.  The sight was magnificent, and the photo is a bagatelle by comparison.

(Does anyone know what a “bagatelle” actually is?)


Sabotage in the Home

by wjw on May 16, 2018

Of course you knew that when you installed Alexa, Siri, or Google’s Assistant in your home, you were installing a spy.  You just trusted that Amazon, Apple, or Google would use your information for good, or at least would not actively harm you.

What you may not have known is that these assistants aren’t just spies, they’re potential enemy saboteurs.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online — simply with music playing over the radio.

A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

Try to prove that you didn’t order a thing when the command came from your own phone.  And guess what— it’s not even illegal!

There is no American law against broadcasting subliminal messages to humans, let alone machines. The Federal Communications Commission discourages the practice as “counter to the public interest,” and the Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters bans “transmitting messages below the threshold of normal awareness.” Neither say anything about subliminal stimuli for smart devices.

Fortunately there’s a simple solution.  Just turn that shit off!



by wjw on May 15, 2018

So my innards are grumbling, and I expect the next few hours won’t be any fun at all.

I’m doing my prep for tomorrow’s colonoscopy.  You have my permission not to envy me.

I’m mentioning this not to elicit sympathy— because there is none on the Internet— but to remind those of you of a certain age that this is one of those things that has to be done regularly, a fact driven home to me twenty years ago, when Roger Zelazny died of cancer because he delayed this annoying but very necessary procedure.  If he’d got his checkup, we might have had twenty more years of genius writing to enjoy.

So do yourself a favor, and when your time comes around, give your friendly neighborhood gastroenterologist a call.

I’m already planning to give myself a reward, and here it is.


That’s twelve pounds of brisket in what, if I were more pretentious, I would call my “immersion circulator,” but which is really just a big stock pot with an Anova sous vide stick in it.

The brisket will be cooked for three days at 155 degrees F, after which all collagen will have melted and the meat will be as tender as a ripe peach.  The meat will be finished on a grille or in an oven to give it a perfect crust, and then I’ll serve it up.

Not that I’ll be eating all twelve pounds myself.  I’ll have plenty of friends to help out.

Friends that I plan to have a round for a long time, in part because I’m doing what the doc says, and getting myself checked out.


A Mythical Beast

by wjw on May 14, 2018

32267491_10214338851818499_4533395224252121088_nA statue of a unicorn eating a lily,  across the road from the James Thurber House.

Here’s a link to the story, in case you’ve never read it.

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Hello, Columbus

May 10, 2018

I am in Columbus.  The one in Ohio, not the one in New Mexico that Pancho Villa attacked, or the one in Indiana, or the one in Georgia; and certainly not the Columbus City in Iowa, or the Columbus City in Alabama.  (If Columbus founded any more cities in North America, I’m unaware of them.) […]

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Archivum Secretum

May 7, 2018

The Vatican Secret Archives houses 53 linear miles of documents going back 12 centuries, much of it handwritten in Latin using archaic script.  It’s not Secret, exactly, it’s just inaccessible, because in order to look at one of the documents you actually have to be there, in the Vatican, along with your knowledge of Latin […]

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Ice Flows

May 4, 2018

A video taken a couple weeks ago in my home town of Duluth.  Kind of hypnotic, no? I remember stuff like this from when I was a kid.

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May 4, 2018

I few nights ago, I woke from a really scary nightmare. I don’t remember the dream at all, which is a shame, because judging from my reaction to it, it would have made an excellent premise for a fright film.  At any rate, I woke very suddenly, with my heart pounding and my eyes wide […]

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Something About Cabell

April 29, 2018

I have lately been revisiting the works of James Branch Cabell. (rhymes, by the way, with “rabble”) Insofar as Cabell is remembered these days, it’s as a writer of fantasy fiction.  The best of his fantasies were reprinted in the Sixties as part of Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy Series, which is where I found him when […]

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