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Journal Journal: Efficient RSS Throttling 3

Dan Sandler has an article from a few days ago about RSS throttling, where he discusses the solution of having the server keep track of which clients have hit RSS feeds recently, so it knows when a client crosses the line and needs to be banned.

This is exactly what we do on Slashdot, of course. Every hit, whether to a dynamically-generated perl script page, or to a static .shtml or .rss page, triggers an Apache PerlCleanupHandler which inserts a row into our 'accesslog' table on our MySQL database.

(By putting it in the cleanup phase, we ensure it doesn't affect page delivery times at all; it just means a few more milliseconds that the httpd child is occupied instead of being available to deliver pages, but the only resource it's taking up is RAM.)

Dan writes:

I'm uncomfortable with this solution because it's hard to make it scale. First, you have to hit a database (of some kind) to cross-reference the client IP address with its last fetch time. Maybe that's not a big deal; after all, you're hitting the database to read your website data too. But then you have to write to the database in order to record the new fetch time (if the RSS feed has changed), and database writes are slow.

I'll grant that our accesslog traffic is pretty I/O intensive. But if you were only talking about logging RSS hits and nothing else, it'd be a piece of cake. The table just needs three columns (timestamp, IP address, numeric autoincrement primary key). You expire old entries by deleting off one end of the table while you insert into the other. That way inserts never block, even under MyISAM (though I'd recommend InnoDB).

You only need to keep about an hour of the table around anyway, so it's going to be really slow. How many RSS hits can you get in an hour? A hundred thousand? That's peanuts, especially since each row is fixed size. Crunch that IP address down to a 32-bit int before writing it and each row is 12 bytes, give or take. Throw in the indexes and the whole table is a few megabytes. Even a slow disk should be able to keep up -- but if you're concerned about performance, heck, throw it in RAM.

To catch bandwidth hogs, you create a secondary table that doesn't have so much churn. It has an extra column for the count of RSS hits, so if some miscreant nails your webserver 1,000 times in a minute, the secondary table only gets 1 row. You periodically (every minute or two) check the max id on that table, then

INSERT INTO secondary_table SELECT ip, MAX(ts), COUNT(*) FROM table WHERE id BETWEEN last_checked+1 AND current_max GROUP BY ip

By limiting the id to a range, again, there is no blocking issue with the ongoing inserts. After doing that, you trim off rows from secondary_table older than an exact time amount, and then you're ready to do the only query that even approaches being expensive:

SELECT ip, SUM(hitcount) AS s FROM secondary_table HAVING s > your_limit GROUP BY ip

and you have your list of IP addresses that have exceeded your limit.

What we do is use that data to update a table that keeps track of IP addresses that need to be banned from RSS, and have a PerlAccessHandler function that checks a (heavily cached) copy of that table to see whether the incoming IP gets to proceed to the response phase or not.

Slashdot's resource requirements are actually a lot higher than this, since we log every hit instead of just RSS, we log the query string, user-agent, and so on -- and also because we've voluntarily taken on the privacy burden of MD5'ing incoming IP addresses so we don't know where users are coming from. That makes our IP address field 28 bytes longer than it has to be. But even so, we don't have performance issues. Slashdot's secondary table processing takes about 10-15 seconds every 2 minutes.

As for Dan's concern about IP addresses hidden behind address translation -- yep, that's a concern. (We don't bother checking user-agent because idiots writing RSS-bombing scripts would just spam us with random agents.) The good news is that you can set your limits pretty high and still function, since a large chunk of your incoming bandwidth is that top fraction of a percent of hits that are poorly-written scripts. Even a large number of RSS feeds behind a proxy shouldn't be that magnitude of traffic. We do get reader complaints, though, and for a sample of them, anyone thinking about doing this might want to read this thread first.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Oil Shock Could Cause Another Recession 7

The media is surprisingly quiet about the "oil shock" that we are going through. One might almost call it "suppressed panic": I'm seeing the story in financial sections but it hasn't hit the front page yet. The price of oil keeps hitting record highs, and with supply barely exceeding demand, the price may continue to rise in the months to come.

The question is how much. The consensus seems to be that if we hit the $60-70 level and stay there for a few months, we're definitely looking at another recession. But what damage could a $50-60 price do? Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley was concerned, saying in August that

With oil prices now in the high $40s (WTI basis), there is good reason to treat this development as yet another in a long string of energy shocks. The impact of such disruptions depends very much on context -- namely, the vulnerability, or lack thereof, in the underlying economy. When a weak economy is hit by any type of a shock, recession normally results. Conversely, a strong economy is better insulated to withstand such a blow. Most of the oil shocks of the past fall into the former category -- hitting economies when they are vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Oil Shock of 2004 fits that script to a tee. [...]

At the current level of around $47, oil prices are 62% above the $29 average that has prevailed since early 2000. That takes the "real" oil price (i.e., WTI quotes deflated by the headline CPI) back to levels last seen in the late 1980s; in fact, other than the brief spike in late 1990, the current increase represents the sharpest run-up in the real oil price since the late 1970s. I have maintained for some time that the "true" shock probably comes with $50 oil (see my May 10 dispatch, "Global Wildcards"). That would represent in excess of a 70% surge above the post-2000 average -- enough of a spike, in my view, to put it in the ballpark with full-blown oil shocks of the past.


"The economy is near its tipping point," Stephen S. Roach, chief economist for Morgan Stanley, said yesterday. He said the nation would likely fall back into recession if oil prices hover near $50 a barrel for three to six months.

"This is an oil shock, absolutely," Roach said, noting that yesterday's closing price was 68 percent higher than the roughly $29 per barrel average that had prevailed since early 2000. "The oil price is high enough to make a real difference to a vulnerable U.S and global economy."

I wonder if W's economic legacy will be a W-shaped recovery.

Update, Nov. 1, 2004: Oil Down $2, Speculators Bet on Kerry Win - LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices fell heavily on Monday, taking U.S. crude below $50 on speculation that a U.S. election win for Senator John Kerry could ease the geopolitical friction that helped fuel this year's record-breaking rally.

Update, April 8, 2005: "The economists have changed their minds," says the WSJ. The economists who were saying last August that $50-60 oil would cause a recession have bumped their estimate up to $80-90. It's quite possible they were too pessimistic last year (and that I was foolish to believe them). But this writer wonders if they shouldn't have stuck to their guns. Oil peaked recently in the high-$50s, but has declined all this week, to $53.


Journal Journal: Anti-virus spamware 5

Every anti-virus software manufacturer knows that viruses fake their From addresses. This has been true for years.

So any anti-virus software that detects a virus, and then bounces a reply back to the alleged "sender," with a warning about how their product stopped the virus, serves no purpose except to advertise their product.

Such emails are (1) unsolicited and (2) commercial, and are therefore spam.

Example of spam I received from a Sophos product:

Dear Sender,

The Hays Personnel Services Internet Gateway has detected a virus in an email message that you sent. The email has been quarantined and has not been delivered to its intended recipient(s) .

Please scan and clean all your files and attachments to ensure they are free of viruses and then re-send your message.

For your reference, the details of the message you sent are:
Subject: hello
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004 11:20:25 +0800

The Virus Detected: Scenarios/Incoming/Incoming Sophos Virus Scan: A virus has been detected: 'W32/MyDoom-A'.


A number of current viruses spoof the senders email address. If this email has been sent to you in error please accept our apologies.

For further information on the virus specified above, please refer to virusinfo/

Whoever wrote that software either knew or should have known that MyDoom spoofs the From line. Therefore, the only reason for sending that mail to me was to say "look how great Sophos is at protecting this company from viruses -- maybe it can protect your company too!" Ironically, that company offers anti-spam solutions as well!

I offer a warning to any company thinking about installing an anti-virus email filter -- if you pick a product that responds to viruses by sending spam, your company's mail server may well be blocked by other mail servers around the world. It's not fair, but that's the way the world works now.

To anyone who writes a review of anti-virus email software: warn your readers off any package which spams!

And to anti-virus companies who engage in this sleazy scam: screw you.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Can't make it to tonight's meetup 2

I signed up on and said I'd be at the Ann Arbor, Michigan meeting tonight. Then I got a throat cold. I've been feeling under the weather this week. I just don't feel like spending a total of 3 hours in a car when I'm still slightly mucusy and sore.

I think it'd be fun, but... maybe next month. Sorry.

I'd post this note on, but it doesn't seem like there's any way for me to do so, without giving them money. And I think I'll attend at least one real-world meeting of some kind before I'll be doing that.


Journal Journal: Wanted: Open-Source Audio Programmer 6

Someone I know is looking for a programmer to design and code an audio application. This is for a university, so the resulting program will be used in labs, possibly around the country. The source code will be published under some open-source license.

The resulting program would have to run on Macintosh and Windows, and preferably on Linux as well. The project would have to be completed within n months -- that's undetermined, and depends somewhat on the final feature set, but definitely not as much as a year. So it would be important that the programmer be familiar with some application framework that allows for development on those three platforms, because there isn't a budget for spending three months to learn about how to do that. I don't think anyone cares what language/environment you use as long as it's compatible with an open-source license and is portable to the three desired platforms.

The core of the program is an algorithm that will take input from an audio source (microphone) of human singing and convert it, in real time, into a frequency in Hz. This means not only doing an FFT, on a scale of tens of milliseconds, in real time -- which is fairly well understood -- but also interpreting the result. When a pitch is sung, the frequencies produced are not limited to the base tone, which our ears hear as "the pitch." The note produced includes a variety of formants and overtones, depending on the vowel being sung.

Pulling out "the frequency" from a constantly-changing vector of amplitudes is not rocket science, but it's not trivial either. If you're not an expert on digital audio, don't worry too much about it. Explaining this to you is the professor's job. But if the above description scares you, well, this project is probably not for you.

If it helps you visualize, the core of this is quite similar to the core of the program Music MasterWorks, with the key difference that this application must be geared toward feedback and evaluation in a classroom setting. And of course that it will be open-source, a chief advantage of which is that other academic institutions will be able to build on the work over time and maintain it.

There is of course money to pay for this. This is a university, so you're not getting stock that will make you rich. But it'll pay the bills for those n months.

The remaining necessary features are pretty boring: the program has to be able to take audio input from whatever standard microphone setup there is for the platforms needed. It has to play audio (to establish the key for the student and play for them the notes they are to sing back). It has to allow students to log in, and has to store data about their activities, over a network to an SQL database (real simple DB stuff).

The final goal for this project is to allow professors to flexibly input a series of MIDI notes, and to have students sight-sing (since displaying a staff visually is probably harder than playing the necessary notes out the speaker!). That means features like authorizing a professor, reading MIDI input live from a MIDI interface, storing that data, and displaying notes on a staff in a (relatively simple) graphical format. But I think we're assuming that's going into version 2.0.

The programming work can almost certainly be done over the internet, with meetings by regular ol' phone, after an initial face-to-face meeting.

None of this is starting soon. There is grant paperwork, and approvals, which have yet to happen. My best guess is that the ball will get rolling "sometime this calendar year" -- not a very accurate guess, I know, sorry about that.

If you're a programmer who'd be interested in this project, drop me a line at


Journal Journal: Tetrahymena 1

Always back up your valuable data!

The single-celled organism Tetrahymena has two cell nuclei. One contains the working copy of its DNA database.

The other contains a replicated slave DB, which acts as a checksum to the original in case it becomes corrupted.

The BBC has the story.

"The smaller nucleus (called the micronucleus) does nothing more than keep the cell's full genome safe. It seems that Tetrahymena uses the smaller of its two nuclei as a master record of its dna so that it always has a safe set of genes for the cell's offspring.

"The other nucleus, called the macronucleus, uses 'working' dna to regulate the cell's life functions."


Journal Journal: A Freudian Slip 4

The American Decency Association put me on their mailing list after I did the reports on library censorware in Holland, Mich.

So every few days I get something in my inbox from repressed people protesting Howard Stern, Cosmo at the supermarket or a not-sufficiently- Family Video. The latest big push of theirs is the boycott of Abercrombie and Fitch for peddling porn and selling thongs for girls.

Today's mail included this letter from Bill Johnson, the President of the ADA.

To: Friends
From: Bill Johnson
Re: How do we get convictions?
Date: October 11, 2002


How do we get convictions? Can we instill them in others?

I can come into a room and see an image on a television that is exhibiting a scantily clad actor and get immediately indignant while a group of people (young or old) can be sitting viewing it and see nothing wrong. Why is that?

I believe it is because of a strong sense of right and wrong - Biblical convictions. [...]

Honestly, over the years I have wondered why there aren't people all around us who experience righteous indignation over sexual images and themes that increasingly dominate the various "entertainment" choices.

I care deeply when I see an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog using sexual images of older teenagers to hit the hot bottoms of other teenagers but I wonder why there is so little outrage from other Christians around me?

I'm pretty sure he meant to write "hot buttons." Guess he had something else on his mind.

Journal Journal: Re: "Fastest Slashdotting Ever" 3

Dear Sir/Madam,

It has come to my attention that you clicked onto the Slashdot homepage and saw a story with "0 of 3 comments" or approximately such, whereupon attempting to visit the website referenced by same, you encountered slowness which indicated to you that it had become, as the colloquialism goes, "Slashdotted."

At which point you returned to Slashdot and proceeded to post a comment expressing your ( [ ] surprise [ ] astonishment [ ] outrage ) at how quickly the referent had been reduced to a pile of smoking silicon.

Allow me to explain something to you.

A story appears on the Slashdot homepage at approximately the same time for everyone. (Actually, since less than half our visitors are logged-in, that minority sees / which delivers a story (on average) approximately 30 seconds before the majority sees it on /index.shtml. But this 30 seconds is irrelevant: let us say the story "appears" on "the" Slashdot homepage at about 10 seconds after the top of the minute, when it is written into /index.shtml.)

After what delay should one expect the "Slashdotting" to begin?

Our traffic throughout the day is quite constant. There is no peer-to-peer network of Slashdot readers, who spread the news of "look! a new freakin' story!" gradually around the world over the succeeding hour, that all may throng, gawk, and retreat until the next story is posted. We do not mail out a newsletter or mobilize the phone banks to inform people of this fact. No, people are constantly stopping by, and they see the new story when they see it.

Let us think about it briefly. Let us suppose that we have n people visiting the Slashdot homepage every second, of which m click through to read a link. We see that if a new story goes up at 14:00:10, then between 14:00:10 and 14:00:11, there will be n viewers, and, after they stretch their mice over to the links and click, m of them will visit the linked site.

Whereas twenty minutes later, between 14:20:10 and 14:20:11, there will be approximately n who -- oh wait a minute! It's the same number!

In conclusion, we see that the Slashdotting begins after approximately the length of time it takes our average reader to paw a mouse over a link and click it. Since this duration is trivial compared to the time it takes to post even the very first comment (20 seconds, minimum), your surprise is unwarranted.

I feel your pain, though.

Hope this helps,

United States

Journal Journal: Taking Liberties 7

The honor of producing the English language's most popular aphorism may fall to Benjamin Franklin:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

That's as it's cited by Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed., 1919, the most authoritative source I could find without resorting to a library trip. (I'm lazy.) That's modulo punctuation and Wacky Pre-Dictionary Capitals, of course. The quote appeared as early as 1755 and was published in Franklin's Historical Review of Pennsylvania in 1759.

Notice the important words "essential" and "temporary," without which the meaning changes significantly. Adjectives, like the word "foolish" in this rhyme, are the first to depart our memories, as we shall soon see.

The Franklin quote also appears in fifty Slashdot users' sigs, though only nine times in its Bartlett-approved form. Here's how some of our users spin this quarter-millennium-old dichotomy:

from the Misabridged dept.

  • Those who give up freedom for security deserve neither.
  • Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither!
  • Those who would sacrifice freedom for security will get neither
  • Those who give up freedom for security deserve neither.
  • Those who would surrender freedom for security soon have neither.

from the You just trailed off there dept.
(also known as, while defending our freedoms, watch that 120-character limit)

  • They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor s
  • Those who would surrender essential liberty for a little temporary security may deserve neither, but they tend to
  • They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor sa

from the Paraphrasing, the game everyone can play dept.

  • A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will deserve neither and lose both.
  • A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.
  • People who are willing to give up freedom for the sake of short term security, deserve neither freedom nor security
  • A people that would sacrifice rights and freedom for a bit of safety deserve neither freedom nor safety.

from the Maybe they said it too dept.

  • A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both and deserve neither. - Thomas Jefferson
  • Those who would trade freedom for security will not have, and are not deserving of, either - Thomas Jefferson
  • A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both and deserve neither --Thomas Jefferson
  • Those that would give up freedom for security deserve neither. Lazarus Long (aka Robert Heinlein)

from the Variations on the theme dept.

  • They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security
  • Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  • Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety
  • They that give up liberty to obtain safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

from the Commentary dept.

  • Not only will they not deserve liberty or safety, Mr. Franklin, they will be DENIED both!

from the Modern synonyms: security dept.

  • Those willing to give up freedom for the sake of short term security, deserve neither freedom nor security.
  • They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security
  • Those who give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither
  • Those who would give up essential liberties for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security

from the Modern synonyms: purchasing power dept.

  • Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  • Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
  • Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither.

from the Modern synonyms: in times of sacrifice dept.

  • Those who would sacrifice essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  • Those who would sacrifice freedom for a little temporary safety deserve neither freedom nor safety
  • Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

from the Clever... dept.

  • Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little safety will receive 25% off their insurance premiums
  • Those who would give up liberty in exchange for security and DRM should switch to Microsoft Palladium!
  • Those who would sacrifice sound quality for hard-drive space deserve neither.
United States

Journal Journal: Looking for the Energy sources 3

Energy Task Force Lawsuits to Proceed

WASHINGTON, DC, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - A federal judge has ruled that a public interest lawsuit seeking documents from the White House Energy Task Force may proceed.

Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an opinion Wednesday allowing the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch to proceed with their suits challenging the administration's attempts to keep Vice President Richard Cheney's task force meetings with energy industry executives secret. Last year, the task force produced a national energy policy that relies heavily on energy production from fossil fuels like oil and coal, and from nuclear power plants.

The Sierra Club filed its lawsuit after the Bush administration refused to divulge how much influence energy companies had in crafting the nation's energy policy. The administration refused to release information about meetings with industry representatives, despite numerous requests from Congress and a variety of public interest groups.

In his opinion, Judge Sullivan wrote that Cheney and his co-defendants were seeking a ruling from him that "would eviscerate the understanding of checks and balances between the three branches of government on which our constitutional order depends."

The judge chastised the Justice Department lawyers for attempting to mislead the court, writing that, "the fact that the government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the existing controlling law in at least two cases, does not strike this Court as a coincidence. One or two isolated mis-citations or misleading interpretations of precedent are forgivable mistakes of busy counsel, but a consistent pattern of misconstruing precedent presents a much more serious concern." ...

Before explaining precisely why further factual development is necessary to effectively resolve the constitutional question here, first the Court must briefly discuss the proper legal standard to apply to separation of powers conflicts. Defendants have repeatedly invoked an incorrect constitutional standard in this case, a standard that would increase Executive power at the expense of the other branches of government. Defendants have made these arguments despite previous concessions of defense counsel that their preferred standard did not reflect the governing law. The government's oscillations before this Court reflect what appears to be a problematic and unprecedented assertion, even in the face of contrary precedent, of Executive power. To borrow the words of the D.C. Circuit in Nixon v. Sirica, "[s]upport for this kind of mischief simply cannot be spun from incantation of the doctrine of separation of powers." 487 F.2d 700, 715 (D.C. Cir. 1973). ...

The implications of the bright-line rule advocated by the government are stunning. Even if this Court were to consider the question of what separation of powers standard to apply without the benefit of precedent, it would reach the conclusion that the government's position is untenable. Any action by Congress or the Judiciary that intrudes on the president's ability to recommend legislation to Congress or get advice from Cabinet members in any way would necessarily violate the Constitution. The Freedom of Information Act and other open government laws would therefore constitute an unconstitutional interference with Executive authority. [...] Clearly, this is not the law. Such a ruling would eviscerate the understanding of checks and balances between the three branches of government on which our constitutional order depends.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Fakes 4

The following is email I received last night. I guess some high school students are very bored. I'm posting this not only because the memes in my head tell me to, but to get their list of keywords all together on the web and make it that much harder for anyone else they contact to find them. Take that, you solipsistic, Vulcan-fetishist, Nietzschean, pseudo-Dawkinsesque, Games-magaziner, manifesty Neo-wannabes.

(Not like anyone's going to find anything with their search terms anyway, using the rules they propose... way too generic. Wild goose chase. The ironic thing is that the find-Ryan-and-Jacob chain letter is a pretty cool meme.)

There is something extremely wrong with every single person in this world. They seem to be part of a pointless simulation.

"The Matrix" has portrayed this idea somewhat, yet we watch it and go back to our daily lives. Yet in this very life, underneath the seeming diversity in people's opinions, values, talents, and interests, there is something that makes everyone the same. It is as though this planet is populated only by mindless fakes, objects that provide the appearance of intellect on the surface but are based on only mechanical reflexes and primitive thought patterns.

I don't really care if anything I say has been said before, if it was portrayed in movies, in books, or in the lyrics of some useless song. With 6 billion people covering the globe at any given time, thousands and thousands of years of written literature, probability dictates almost any combination of words has occurred numerous times. Yet there is clear evidence there was no action, so those words, just like the people who spoke them, must have been just more fakes. I am forced to use this language (also created by the fakes) because there is no alternative, so everything I write here could be misunderstood to make me sound like one of them, but it will be the action that I take and the dedication that will separate me from them.

In my estimation the fakes that occupy this planet don't make up 99%, but more like 99.9999999% of the population. I know this because I've searched, and in my search have so far only found one true ally (I have found him via the internet as well). But even with those numbers we would not give up because there is no logic in giving up.

The people on this planet are all fakes because the societies have made them this way. Ideas that populate people's minds have no logic or purpose. Concepts such as religion, god, morality, individualism, freedom, identity, happiness, love and billions of others are all just memes. Like parasites they infect the minds and spread from one person to the next. They have no point or purpose; they exist without any logical basis or foundation. The fakes are completely controlled by them, and they will never see beyond them. To not be controlled by them one must do more then just realize that they exist. One must resist any ideas that have no point, endlessly question, and never accept imperfection or compromise in any answer.

We (myself and my ally) are different though. While we have had the limitation of existing only in these societies, something has made it possible for us to resist being indoctrinated into becoming one of those fakes. We have no arbitrary wants, needs, desires, or preferences.

If this world continues to exist the way it is then nothing in it will ever have a point. It will always be just a product of random evolution, one with no importance or relevance. The only logical goal is to dedicate our lives to increasing our numbers, those that aren't fakes, so that in thousands of years our numbers may be such that the fakes would no longer be a threat to progress.

Those that join us must see every other person occupying this planet as the enemy, and us as their only allies. Like us they must have dedication only to taking the most logical action, and to nothing else.

To tell you more about us, we've posted some personal information about ourselves on a website. You'll also find past responses to us on that webpage.

Obviously anyone reading this email is most likely just another fake. Do not simply reply to this email, if you do your message will almost certainly be ignored. If you do wish to communicate, first demonstrate your interest by taking the effort to find us online, one of the ways to do that is described below.

Use a major search engine to search for every combination of any two words from the list below. The order of the words shouldn't matter as long as you do not search for them in quotes. Also when you pick the right combination you shouldn't need to look at more then the first matches.

There is no trick to this and this isn't meant to be quick, it should, however, be fairly clear if/when you find the right site. The following search engines were verified by us, please use any of them as other search engines may simply not list us correctly: MSN, Lycos, InfoSeek, FastSearch, LookSmart, HotBot, InfoSpace,, AllTheWeb, Teoma, WebCrawler, AltaVista.


If this can't be solved, or if you never reach us, there should be no reason for you to give up as we will never give up and thus there will always be some way to find us.

Ryan and Jacob

Followup, later in the day: Joshua Schachter found their homepage. It's pretty dull.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Speed 4

Original journal entry, June 28, 2002:

I just went for a drive under the influence. Of what, I'm not sure.

I was sitting at my keyboard, following a few IRC channels and testing a build of some code, when suddenly I noticed that everything seemed to be moving very quickly and very slowly at the same time. I became aware of my typing: my fingers were moving at breakneck speed, it seemed, flying over the keys faster than should be humanly possible. At the same time, I was calmly conscious of what I was typing, and the words seemed to be proceeding from my fingers at a stately pace. Every motion I made was accompanied by the same contradictory twin senses: that the movement was wildly fast and serenely slow at the same time.

This is far from the first time that I've noticed this happen. It's been happening since I was a teenager at least. This is the first time in months, possibly a year. Once or twice a year, throughout my lifetime, is probably a good estimate.

It starts without warning. The only effect is that my perception of speed changes, or maybe disappears, leaving me with the feeling that everything is happening too quickly and too slowly. Noises seem louder as well. This time, for example, the refrigerator motor was running and it, along with my normal collection of computer fans, was very noticeable. I haven't noticed any alterations in vision or any other senses.

In general there is a heightened sense of perception, though this is likely just because I am curious about the phenomenon and am actively paying attention to my surroundings.

The twin sensations of speed and slowness are somewhat different in character. The feeling of speed is a kind of excitedness and rush, minus adrenaline. The closest I've felt to it in everyday life is when I played soccer or table-tennis: the feeling was similar to the focus when someone with the soccer ball was rushing me and I had to stop them, or when I was in the zone and volleying over the net just at the edge of my ability. With this, there's no emotional involvement, no excitement, just the awareness that "this is happening a bit faster than I can deal with," or perhaps more precisely: "geez, look at that go!" or "look at me go!"

But the feeling of slowness is more like being surprised that "this is still going on?" We plan our everyday activities one thing at a time: first I'll walk over there, then I'll turn on the light, then I'll pick up the pen, then I'll... etc. The feeling of slowness is a feeling that the current action is taking longer than expected to get through. "Aren't we done with this yet?"

When this happens, normally I just... well, keep doing whatever I'm doing. I can function quite normally, my consciousness, judgement, and coding skills are quite unimpaired -- it just feels strange. This time I wanted to try something new. I got my keys (loud frenetic jangling), walked outside, locked the door (swift latching), walked to the car like I was an actor in a sped-up movie, climbed in, started it up and pulled out.

I was very cautious of course. I definitely got a feeling of fast movement even from trundling forward in first gear. When I pulled up to the exit gate, it seemed to rise very quickly, while taking forever to do so.

Once I got out of first gear and on the road, I found something very interesting. I could experience either the feeling of moving very swiftly, or the feeling of standing almost still, depending on which I wanted to focus on. When I noted how swiftly I was moving, as I did at first, the car's acceleration seemed instantaneous: I barely was in one gear before it was time for the next, and the trees just flew by.

And then, a moment later, when I decided to pay attention to how slowly it was all happening, the car seemed to be hardly moving at all. That was even stranger: I had to look down at the speedometer to note my speed (45MPH) -- and when I looked back up, it felt like I was in a go-kart trundling slowly along. If I hadn't known better I would have sworn I was doing 10MPH.

I braked early for the stoplight just to be on the safe side. Despite the odd sensations, or maybe because I was being incredibly careful, I had no real problems driving.

After I turned, I decided I wanted to take the top down (it's a hot day today). I pulled into a parking lot and somehow sensed the feeling was subsiding. As I unzipped the rear window and pulled the top down, those actions felt more normal than usual. By the time I turned around and pulled back onto the road, it was gone; all was right again. Time since the stoplight was about 15 seconds. Total elapsed time of this sensation, from typing to putting the top down, was probably three to four minutes.

For the record, I don't do drugs, I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I haven't for over ten years. The only drug in my system at the time was one cup of half-caf coffee I'd drunk six hours earlier, and 47 grams of sugar from a can of non-caf soda. I'd eaten a nice lunch a few hours before, so my blood sugar was relatively stable. I notice I'm getting a bit of a headache now, but that happens frequently anyway. Nothing I've eaten or imbibed today has been unusual in any way.

In other instances of this phenomenon, I've noticed that my sensation of size has changed as well. My fingers, in particular, will feel both daintily tiny and grossly large. I didn't pay attention to that aspect of it today, but I'm sure if I had, I would have noticed it again.

My hypothesis is that there is some portion of the brain that regulates perception of time. Our brains are quite well equipped to expect things to happen at a precise time: we can jump off a small ledge, close our eyes halfway down, and know intuitively when to flex our knees for the landing. Somehow this part of my brain goes on the fritz, or becomes disconnected, twice a year. What I perceive as simultaneously "too fast" and "too slow" is, I believe, how my consciousness interprets lack of the "this looks normal" message from lower in the brain. In essence, my forebrain asks my mid- or hindbrain, "does the proportion/speed of this look 'normal'?" When the answer fails to come back in some appropriate way, any explanation I want will do: an object will be too large if I want it to be, or too small, or things will be happening too fast, or too slow. Without the reassurance of correctness, apparently, my consciousness will accept any explanation as valid.

But -- nothing I've read about the brain has mentioned any such structure. And, not being a brain surgeon, I'm not exactly in a position to test my hypothesis. Oh well.

I have to wonder if anyone has ever had this same experience. And I wonder whether others, having a similar experience, and knowing nothing of the way the brain works, have called it "leaving their body" or "a fugue state." I could easily see blaming demons -- but me, I just think it's cool.

Followup, September 15:

After I wrote the above, Scientific American's September 2002 issue came out. Its focus is on time. On pp. 59-65 is a fascinating look at how the brain measures time.

"The interval timer helps you figure out how fast you have to run to catch a baseball. It tells you when to clap to your favorite song. It lets you sense how long you can lounge in bed after the alarm goes off."

The theory described in the article is that spiny neurons in the striatum are essentially oscillators, firing 10 to 40 times a second, and that interval-timing involves synching them up and then watching for patterns. Interesting stuff.

I don't think a fault in this system is what was wrong with me. I recognize that interval-timing might be used at a variety of levels, but I doubt it could also explain the difference in my perception of dimensions.

Followup, January 23, 2006:

I think it's only happened once since 2002, by the way.

I just read this passage from "How Meditation Works" and was struck by the similarity of the physical awareness described here with the experience I occasionally undergo involuntarily. The description of body parts gaining or losing size and weight is dead-on, and I couldn't have phrased this better myself: "Each component of the event seems to contain vast expanses of time and space within which to perceive information in an unhurried way." Also, footnote 14.

And increased awareness and clarity is indeed part of the experience: I feel as if every scrap of sound, every individual action and sub-action, everything within my sphere of senses is specifically discernable. Or, of course, seems to be -- since it's my brain doing this, how would I know whether I actually have increased awareness or just the illusion of it?

Anyway, the final paragraph below describes using (a similar or identical?) meditational experience of events as a metaphor (or tool?) to explore one's thoughts and sub-thoughts, "emotions, concepts and mental images" in the same way. That would be interesting, but not interesting enough for me to invest untold hours meditating. As for the physical experience I occasionally undergo: again, interesting, but not life-changing. Really not that much of a payoff. I've always thought of it as my brain briefly breaking somehow, and then fixing itself. Never considered trying to live my whole life that way. Whatever floats your boat...

A common approach used in the Theravada tradition is to flood the consciousness with more and more complete and precise information about mental and physical events. Typically, one first learns to experience this intense "vipashyana mode" of observation for a single simple event. Once learned, this can be generalized and applied to any aspect of experience. With practice, a habitual suppleness is developed which allows one to perceive each event in the stream of daily life in this totally aware way without having to work at it.

Take, for example, the act of walking. Most people do it unconsciously. There's nothing wrong with that, but suppose you would like to enhance awareness of this event "walking." You could start by mentally noting which foot is swinging at any particular time. This gives you a tiny bit more information about the reality of walking than doing it unconsciously. Next, with regard to each foot, try to note the very instant when the foot begins to rise and the instant when it again touches the ground. [13] Left up, left swing, left down, right up, right swing, right... For still more detailed observation, it is useful at the beginning to walk much more slowly than normal and perhaps to pause between each component of the walking. Now, note the instant the left heel rises, note the sweep of tactile sensation as the sole lifts away from the ground. Note the moment the toes leave the ground, the beginning of the forward swing, the swing itself, the end point of the swing, the beginning of lowering the foot, the lowering, the instant the foot touches ground, again the sweep of tactile sensation and the instant when the foot has completely returned to the ground. Now pause. Note when the will to move the right foot arises. Now begin to move the right foot, observing each component as before.

Such an exercise builds much samadhi, but this is a byproduct. The important thing is increased clarity about the process. After more practice, it is possible to apply an even finer analysis. Within each component of the motion (lifting, swinging, lowering, etc.) can be distinguished numerous subcomponents, tiny jerks each with distinct beginning and end points and each preceded by a separate will to move. If this keen observation is sustained, alterations in perception begin to occur. The event seems to slow down, a subjective sensation independent of any actual physical slowness. Each component of the event seems to contain vast expanses of time and space within which to perceive information in an unhurried way. [14]

But wait. As your information about the foot gets fuller and fuller, the foot seems to be less and less there! It expands, contracts, becomes light and hollow, merges with things, disappears and reappears. Without being seduced or frightened, just keep on noting the simple reality of the foots moment-to-moment motion.

This "vipashyana mode" of awareness can be applied to every type of experience. One can gently move the eye over an object, drinking in information about it so rapidly and fully that the consciousness has no time to solidify and limit the object. Likewise with other senses, touch, taste, smell, hearing, etc. This is the fundamental paradox of meditation: see something fully and it is transparent, hear fully and there is silence. The feeling of solidity and separateness of objects, which most people take for granted, turns out to be merely an unnecessary and toxic byproduct of the process of perception. It clogs the flowing stream of life. One can function quite well without it.

Applying this total mode of awareness to emotions, concepts and mental images is the most difficult but most productive exercise of all. The stream of a person's thoughts and feelings is so unpredictable and gripping ... not at all like raising and lowering a foot! Yet with the detachment and one-pointedness of shamatha, one can catch a thought at its very onset and note each minute permutation until the very end in that same slowed down, complete, unsolidified mode of awareness. A person who can unrelentingly apply this mode to his or her deepest images of self will enter a refreshing new world.

13. In attempting to fully experience any event, it is of utmost importance that the event's beginning and ending points be clearly noted. A line segment which includes its first and last point is mathematically very different from one which does not. Return

14. John Brodie, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, recalled such experiences in an interview published in the January 1973 issue of intellectual Digest (pp 19-20):

"At times, and with increasing frequency now, I experience a kind of clarity that I've never seen adequately described in a football story. Sometimes, for example, time seems to slow way down, in an uncanny way, as if everyone were moving in slow motion. It seems as if I have all the time in the world to watch the receivers run their patterns, and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever. I know perfectly well how hard and fast those guys are coming and yet the whole thing seems like a movie or a dance in slow motion. It's beautiful."

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Journal Journal: The hot new Chevy Inferno

So while I was busy doing something else this afternoon, I was walking through a parking lot when I spotted a stalled car that's smoking. My first thought was that it blew a radiator hose, since the white smoke looked a lot like steam, and I have never seen that much come out from under a hood before. But as I walked closer, I saw little drops of orange fall into a puddle underneath. Aha, I realized, the engine's on fire.

The girl, still sitting inside, couldn't have been over 18. Her most notable feature was that, as I walked up, she was still sitting inside. My exact words to her, and keep in mind there was a prodigious amount of smoke billowing up directly in front of her, were: "do you know your car's on fire?" She said, "I don't know what to do!" I said, "you really want to get out of the car."

So she did, holding a lime-green cell phone that I'm sure was very stylish, and started to explain that she was out of town and didn't know what to do. I strongly suggested calling 911, told her where she was so she could tell the fire department, and ran off to try to find an extinguisher.

Logical place to find a fire extinguisher is an eating establishment with a kitchen, right? Aren't there, what do you call them, fire codes? Of the three that bordered this parking lot, the trendy café and the Subway claimed not to have one. Maybe they thought I was the leader of a tricky gang of extinguisher thieves.

The third, a Middle-Eastern place where the owner recognized me, handed theirs over immediately, but while I had run the eatery-gauntlet, the insulation and plastic under the hood had turned itself into thick black smelly smoke, and one of the front tires had caught like a candle.

By the time I got back to the car, a cop was already there, and there was extinguisher white stuff on the pavement. OK, good, a professional. It was still burning though, maybe not as much as before, but flaming oil was still dripping into a nice flaming puddle underneath. That was cool.

The cop's role, that I could see, involved dressing in fireproof gear (did you know all cop cars had a fireproof suit in the trunk?), staying upwind, and waiting for the fire department to arrive. Of course by the time the fire truck arrived the interior was burning and they had to soak the whole car.

Anyway, shortly before the firemen open the door and spray in the water, sending flames shooting out the other side, the girl turns to me and the other guys standing around watching, and asks us whether we think the car will still be driveable. After we gently explain that cars with incinerated engines don't go, she pauses for a moment, thinks about that, turns to look me in the eye, and asks:

"Do you have a light?"

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