Monthly Archives: September 2007

Encoding restaurant reviews in your tips

Ian Hickson’s new blog post demonstrates why he’s a geeks’ geek:

One day I looked at my bank statement and it was something like:

POS Trans ZIBIBBO PALO ALTO CAUS $76.00
POS Trans CHEESECAKE PALO ALTO CAUS $40.00
POS Trans OUTBACK #0514 CUPERTINO CAUS $210.00
POS Trans BROOKFIELD’S REST #2 SACRAMENTO CAUS $34.00

Look at all those zero cents… there are data bits there, lying unused! It struck me that with every single restaurant transaction I could set the cents field to some number under my control, thus allowing me to communicate with myself at a later date!

So he develops a system of annotations about each meal which he tries to insert into the cents value of his credit card charges, by adjusting the tip he writes in. Turns out that no restaurant actually charged him what he wrote…

Politicians as D&D Nerds

A fine rant from Peter Watts on how politicians’ disdain for science shows how dismally disconnection from reality most policy makers really are:

In other words, both Law and Economics are human artifacts. They’re like Gibsonian cyberspace, a consensual hallucination that only works because everybody agrees to stay inside the playground. They’re Klingon Summer Camp, they’re Dungeons and Dragons for geeks with MBAs: beautifully arcane, deeply developed, honed and crafted by decades of game play. But they’re arbitrary. Lo, the DM changes The Law, tweaks interest rates: watch all the PCs dance to the rules of the new edition!

Try that in the real world, though. Try repealing photosynthesis or gravity and see where it gets you. Anyone who talks about The Economy as though it reflects any fundamental aspect of the real world is an idiot.
So, why is it always suits? Why so few scientists in politics? Why isn’t the real world governed by those practiced in studying the real world, instead of geeks who can’t admit that Klingons don’t actually exist?

I think it’s because science is nasty. It is a methodology that recognizes the prejudices and blind spots of its practitioners, and it is designed to take those weaknesses into account and use them to its own ends. It drags us kicking and screaming to unpleasant truths we’d rather not recognize, it’s the only approach that is designed to be self-correcting

Peter Watts, All elected officials must speak fluent Klingon