Archive for April, 2007

Template changes, video drivers, and fonts

April 30, 2007 2 comments

While playing around with CSS I made some subtle changes to the colors and layout; wider, a little bigger body text, more pronounced blockquote field, stuff like that.  But on viewing the page with a Vista machine, we found the video drivers blew out some of the highlight color differences.  On my Linux machine the text looks heavier and more readable (because it really isn’t Verdana).  Have not looked at it on a Mac yet.  None of these are browser issues, on which web designers spend a lot of time. 

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Curses!  Distracted again!

April 30, 2007 1 comment

Ever go to look up something in an encyclopaedia and wind up just sitting there for two hours reading stuff, only to realize you forgot what you originally wanted to look up?  Google is like that, times a billion.  I wanted to clean out some LCD projectors and the recommended product is compressed 1,1,1,2-tetraflouroethane.  Was it a hazard to the ozone layer?  Should I invest in a line dryer and use a small air compressor instead?  That’s what I went searching for.  And found…

Hooke – the Westminster School Science Magazine (.pdf)  It’s like a bag of chocolate-covered salted nuts.  Want a good explanation of what went wrong at Chernobyl? (complete with some excellent diagrams) How about fast breeder reactors, the science of breakdancing, a close look at helicobactor pylori, a beginners guide to wormholes, allotropes and the atmosphere, and much, much more.  All for the low-low price of nada.

Yeah, that’s what I needed; more reading material tempting me.  I never even heard of The Westminster School before.  Looks like a place that wealthy English people send their bright children.

Now, about those projectors…  looks like it’ll be OK to use the canned air.  Turns out tetraflouroethane isn’t an ozone-killer.

Categories: observations

Look before you leap

April 29, 2007 2 comments

Parade magazine’s Lyric Wallwork Winik writes in his “Intelligence Report”:

From abroad – What the U.S. Missed In Iraq

A fact of life in Iraq has gotten little press here: Nearly half of all Iraqis marry their first or secondcousins.  The preferred union is for a daughter to wed the son of her father’s brother.  In fact, Saddam Hussein married his first cousin, Sajida.  “That’s why the shrewdest forecasts about what would happen in Iraq came not from the foreign-policy experts but from sociologists,” says journalist John Tierney, who reported on this phenomenon.  Back in 2003, those sociologists warned that Iraq would never be like post-war Japan or Germany, because Iraqis were loyal to their clans and tribes – not to the Iraqi nation.  Even today, much of the violence runs along clan lines.  The army and police have an uphill battle to prove they can protect Iraqi communities better than the local militias.  What does this mean for America’s war effort?  Perhaps Congress will belatedly want to ask the President and the generals where tribes and tribal loyalties fit into their plans for building a stable Iraqi nation. (Parade Magazine, 29 April, 2007)

Yes, academic knowledge of countries we plan to attack is important.  Crucial, even.  A little something to remember as hotheads dismiss tweedy “elites” who have spent their lives studying other cultures.

Categories: defense, Politics

Medic!  I’m hit!!! (by the Thinking Blogger award)

April 29, 2007 1 comment

Over in my right-hand “Nav” column there’s a category called “Daily Favorites”.  These are blogs I read every day and which often leave me thinking about stuff, or just surprise and delight me in various ways.  The list changes as my reading habits change.  Recently I’ve been thinking about adding two new blogs to the list: John at Evolving Thoughts and Paul at Cafe Philos

John is an Australian biology professor, and Paul collaborates with Anne up in the Rocky Mountains, though I could not tell from his profile what he does to pay the rent.  Not that it matters: a one-sentence description is a little bit like summing the Earth as “a planet of mass 5.97 × 1024 Kg orbiting a yellow star at 150m Km”.  What does matter is the content and that is what had me thinking about pasting the two URL’s into my template.

Then the other day Paul tagged me with the “Thinking Blogger” award, wherein I’m supposed to tag five other people who are thinking bloggers.  I was (as he says) “surprised and honored” (he said some embarrassingly nice things about me) but the problem is almost everybody on my blogroll has already been tagged by that one.  Paul himself has been tagged three times. 

But meme contagion is interesting to think about as epidemiology.  What determines the rate of propogation?  At what point does the tag selection process begin to encounter a frustratingly dense field of already-selected sites? (where the recipient has the ‘immunity’ of previously being selected)  I think this meme could be nearing that point.

Thanks, Paul!  :red:  And while the meme rules probably disallow tag-backs, back at you!  :P

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Movie Review: Shut Up And Sing

April 28, 2007 8 comments

MrsDoF and I went to see Shut Up And Sing this evening, riding our bicycles downtown to the Historic Normal Theater. The movie tells the story of the US country band “Dixie Chicks” as they navigated the rough public-relations waters following an unpopular comment made by one of their band members.  They faced almost total cessation of radio play, falling album sales, and even death threats.  (Imagine stepping on stage in a packed arena after you’ve received a specific threat that you’d be shot dead, that night, on stage, and after the police inform you that there’s simply no way to be sure no one smuggled in a gun.)

Basically it’s a documentary band movie, not a genre that I usually go see unless there are other compelling issues folded in.  The camera simply followed the band around during the period documented, and included footage of fans, protestors, and television pundits.  (At one point, Bill O’Reilly opines; “They’re callow, foolish women, who deserve to be slapped around.”)  Singer Toby Keith put out a CD with the Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines photoshopped in the arms of Saddam Hussein. (Natalie was not amused)

It’s an interesting story even just from the music-business perspective.  After becoming the biggest-selling female band in US history, the Chicks had to completely reinvent themselves for a new audience after the country music fan base dumped them.  It looks like they’ll be OK now.

I’m not a fan of the Chicks, but for a different reason than most.  For some people the unforgivable sin is blasphemy; for me, it’s mangling Landslide. ;-)   But never mind that. What happened to the Chicks is an example of mob mentality, a dynamic with a long and dishonorable history.  From the crowd screaming; “crucify Him!” to the media frenzy over the Duke University LaCrosse players, it has always taken courage to say; “woah, slow down. Let’s think about this.”  It’s all too easy to find yourself trudging up the hill to Golgotha alongside the one you’re defending.

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this, watching our country torn apart by 9/11 and the Iraq war.  People from both sides get positively angry when someone suggests any debate should begin with common ground, but for example I share a lot of ideas and values in common with even the most fervent Bush supporter.  I love this country and feel our values are important to the world as a whole, and so do they.  We both would like to see Osama come to a bad end.  Neither one of us wants our country to make a serious mistake that would cost it prestige or power.  So the debate isn’t over who loves America, who is against the terrorists, or who wants to see Osama hang; we agree on all those things.  It’s over what that big mistake might be, over strategy, over the means to the ends we share.  It’s high time we understood that about each other, appreciated that about each other, and focused on the real debate instead of ripping each other.

The Dixie Chicks aren’t political scientists, or even particularly smart (in one scene, Maines calls her astrologer).  But as it happened they were right about the Iraq war.  It didn’t make us more secure, and it hurt our country, and the president is responsible for that.  Yet here’s this entertainment-industry story that grew out of it.  It’s a little depressing to think that our artistic tastes might be nothing more than an extension of our politics but the movie gives some sad evidence that it could be true. 

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Mainstream press fails to follow up on sensationalistic story; film at 11

April 27, 2007 4 comments

You may have seen (could hardly have missed) all the press coverage some weeks ago about plants exhaling methane, and how that was a big contributor to global warming.  It was a preliminary result, subject to review and analysis, but the mainstream press (not to say conservative pundits) ran with it as if it were the final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming.  Not humans burning gigatonnes of fossil fuel, no-sir!  Plants were responsible!

Well, exactly.  I mean, seeing as how plants are such a new invention and all, only dating back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.  How could we have missed it?

Scientists at the Max Planck institute were horrified. Their paper was quite technical, and that wasn’t what they were saying at all, so they issued a clarificationNature issued a clarification, and other responsible publications as well.

The mainstream press?  Not so much.  And conservative pundits?  Well, not at all.  What a surprise.

Categories: News, observations

Profiling institutions

April 25, 2007 1 comment

From Mark Ames at AlterNet, an interesting thought:  since the Secret Service has pretty much said there isn’t any way to profile mass shooters, how about profiling the institutions where they strike?

I don’t think it’s blaming the victims, but rather putting the institution (that the victims share in common with the killer) under a microscope.  I doubt it will become a complete explanation; by itself it would be too simplistic.  More like one more component in the “perfect storm” concept, of multiple factors lining up like the pins in a lock tumbler, to release such attacks.  Hmm…

Categories: observations

Are youuu ready to RUM-BULLLLLL!  Dawkins meets O’Reilly tonight

April 23, 2007 9 comments

8:00 PM EST, Richard Dawkins will be on The Factor.  I can’t imagine why he wants to enter the So-Spin Zone so O’Reilly can cut him off, misquote him, and probably blame him for the VT shootings, but it should be quite a spectacle.  Hope it goes on YouTube because I won’t be near a TV this evening.

UPDATE: and here’s the transcript

Categories: Religion

Sleep on it

April 22, 2007 5 comments

Researchers found that sleep is a lot more than rest:

Science Daily — Memorizing a series of facts is one thing, understanding the big picture is quite another. Now a new study demonstrates that relational memory—the ability to make logical “big picture” inferences from disparate pieces of information—is dependent on taking a break from studies and learning, and even more important, getting a good night’s sleep…
Science Daily: To understand the big picture, give it time, and sleep.

There’s more, of course; the article touches upon research into learning intervals and what the brain is doing while you snooze.  Shadow a high school student these days and you’ll realize there’s no time in the school day for stuff to sort itself out.  And I wonder; do naps count?  American culture has siezed upon the 16-hour marathon as the only way to get through a day.  Are we making ourselves dumber?

Excuse me, could I please speak to someone in India?

April 21, 2007 9 comments

I can’t remember where I saw this…

Suppose you have wireless internet service on your laptop.  You are online a lot, so you paid for the unlimited plan; all the internet you want, all the time, anywhere.  Except Canada, that is.  You know the rate is different in Canada, so before going there, you call to check the Candadian rate.  You were clearly told;
”.002 cents per kilobyte”. Just to be sure, you grilled them on it, and made them note it in your account.  You went to Canada, surfing all over the place with your neato wireless plan.

Then you got the bill.  You were charged $71.78 for 35893 kilobytes.  That works out to .002 dollars per kilobyte, or 100 times the rate you were quoted.

Well!  Should be easy enough to clear up.  You have the quoted rate, and the bill.  You call them up, only to be shifted from one supervisor to another, unable to make anyone at Verizon understand the difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents.

.002 dollars = two tenths of a cent
.002 cents = two thousandths of a cent

and they don’t get it.

So you create a blog called “Verizon Math”, where amazed listeners can actually hear a 22 minute recording of one of the customer service calls you made.  One of the representatives, when asked if there is a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents, clearly answers; “No.”  Another complains; “There’s no such thing as .002 dollars!” while yet another says; “Well I’m not a mathematician.”  They kept quoting his rate as “.002 cents per kilobyte” and still getting the total wrong.

It’s frustrating to listen to, but I could imagine playing an excerpt to a math class next time one of the kids says; “Why do we have to know this stuff?”

Categories: Stupidity