Mr. Bureaucrat, Please Report to Room 101


As I’ve said before, all non-trivial privacy warnings are mocked and then come true.

Sixty years ago today, George Orwell published 1984. He unfortunately failed to include a note that the book was intended as a warning, not a manual.

Today, in England, there are an unknown number of surveillance cameras, including many around Orwell’s house, despite the fact that they don’t reduce crime. People can be detained for 28 days without charge, there are “anti-social behavior orders,” which allow a civil court to impose behavioral restrictions on children as young as 10 based on low somewhat relaxed standards of evidence.

Being modern, the UK has outsourced most of its torture to other less reputable nations like Syria and the United States.

Photo: MI5

Bialystock Triumphs in Berlin


The crowd for the premiere seemed pleased. It wasn’t your typical Broadway musical audience, to judge from the number of smart-looking young people with interesting haircuts. A “lively counterpoint to Hollywood productions like ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Defiance,’ with their impeccable Resistance heroes and clichés,” decided the reviewer for Spiegel Online.

“The New York triumph was repeated in Berlin,” concluded the newspaper Tagesspiegel.

“Celebrated effusively by Berlin standards,” observed Stern magazine, the production nevertheless caused some theatergoers to wonder “whether it was really necessary to have so much Nazi paraphernalia onstage.” That’s not to mention the little Nazi flags with pretzels in lieu of swastikas that were handed out to everybody in the audience (including a troop of dirndled transvestites who waved them around like lost cheerleaders).

The Führer Returns to Berlin, This Time Saluted Only by Laughs.” You have to appreciate the devotion of the New York Times in spelling Führer correctly.

Photo by BillyPalooza.

Amusements with Alpha

I just saw a link to someone who had broken Wolfram Alpha. Their breaking question was, “when is 5 trillion days from now?” The broken result is:

AMPMLowerCase]} |
{DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},DayName],, ,DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},MonthName], ,DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},DayShort],, ,13689537044}

Which is certainly amusing. A quick check shows that even one trillion days gives a similar error.

A bit of the old binary searching will yield that (today’s — 3 June 2009) maximum question is, when is 784 billion 351 million 562 thousand 378 days from now?

That’s an odd number of days for the maximum to be, even while being even and finite. The source of the error can be found in that final displayable day: 31 December 2147483647.

That year happens to be the maximum signed 32-bit integer, which tells us the problem. The display code isn’t using bignums for years (or even long longs).

The inverse question is, “how many days until 31 december 2147483647?” but sadly, Alpha doesn’t know how to parse that. It does know how to parse “how many days until 31 december 9999” which is the furthest-out date it can answer. The year 10000 does not work.

I am amused at what this tells us about the guts of Alpha. In some display code, there’s a signed 32-bit integer limiting output. In some input code, there’s an assumption that years have four digits.

Open Thread

What’s on your mind?

Extra points for mocking other members of the combo for not posting.

Me? I’m wondering why the opening of the Parliament of South Africa involves so many bagpipes.