Archive for February, 2010

Alas, poor mouse, I knew him well…

February 28, 2010 Comments off

I was cleaning up in the basement and found this 1992 Microsoft mouse, and before throwing it out decided some procrastination was in order.  So I photographed it in various stages of disassembly. 

From my photo album; Technology

I don’t know why, exactly, except that I always thought it was a clever mechanism.  And it’s interesting to contemplate the days when a computer mouse cost over a hundred dollars, and how they had to be taken apart occasionally to remove fibers from the optical encoding disks. 

Today we all use “optical” mice, but as far as I know the mouse has been an optical device since the first prototype in 1963.

It’s also neat to see the fine engineering that went into this device.  It had considerable heft – the ball was finely rubber-coated steel and its internal steel frame added weight as well.  The encoding disk was sharply cut on the emitter side but had angled ports on the sensor side to prevent internal reflections, resulting in a more defined signal.  And so on.  I uploaded 7 photos to the album, in case you are giving a lecture on technology history and need illustrations or something.  Or just want to make jokes about mouse balls.

I’m going to use the microswitches in my next little project, which is to convert a Nintendo Wii-shaped candy dispenser into a 5mw green laser pointer.  A little piece of the past living on in a toy.

OK back to cleaning up the basement now.

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Science is culture, autotuned

February 27, 2010 Comments off

Feynman: “I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things.  I think it’s much more interesting.”

I’m flattened by the irony of Templeton Foundation types who say; “Well science doesn’t know everything”.  That’s exactly the point.  In science we can pursue the unknown instead of making up mythological answers about it.  We’re allowed, encouraged to disprove anything in science, if we can; each instance a course-correction toward better understanding the universe.

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How the valuable “team player” can help you destroy YOUR organization.

February 26, 2010 Comments off

You probably know the story by now: Pennsylvania school district gives laptops to kids, then uses the laptops to spy on them. And by “spying” I mean; “remotely take pictures through the built-in webcam in the students’ bedrooms”.  The students didn’t know about it, or know the reason why it was a violation of the “code of conduct” to disable the webcam.  Now the FBI is investigating.

These people are in big trouble.  They violated several very important laws (normally you have to be Dick Cheney to get away with such) that can land them in prison.  They exposed their school district to the mother of all class-action suits.  And they undermined every laptop loan program in the country, abusing and destroying trust.  It was a spectacularly dumb move, setting up and using the spy system.

Thing is; it wasn’t just one or two people.  You know how this works: a committee had to put out an RFP for the software system, and review competing systems.  Some pointy-haired boss had to approve the purchase. Unless their legal council is incompetent, they omitted asking him/her.  Technicians had to install the software and train school officials in its use.  School principals had access to the pictures and thought it would be a good idea to confront a student with one of them.  The kid was eating candy, which the principal mistook for “pills”, and called the kid into his office.  See!  Here’s the evidence, kid.  Of the school district committing a crime, that is.

There were so many exit ramps on the road between initial dumb idea, and pathetic national news story.  At any point someone could have said; “Go ask your lawyers. This is wrong, you know it’s wrong, and you’re not going to do it or I’m going to the parents and the press.”  And the pointy-haired bosses would have been angry but a quick consult with school district legal council would have revealed the objecting person as a valuable asset.  It would go something like this:

(School district attorney: “You surely weren’t going to actually DO this, were you?”)

Pot holes of stupidity are seldom this deep, but organizations take the dumb road all the time, and they’re set up to reward “team players” while punishing individuals who raise objections.  It’s true in politics, in religion, in education, and in business.  When the project is completed, everyone slaps everyone else on the back and it’s attaboys all around.  Status quo, stupidity, cupidity, mendacity and just plain bull-headedness wins the day.

It’s easy to think of dumb corporate decisions that became news: Enron, Ken Lay, or local stuff like the city arena that we were told would make a profit when everyone knew it wouldn’t (actual case).  Or the church camp that was caught burying several barrels of chlordane next to the lake to save the cost of proper disposal (another actual case).  In situations like that, who’s the most valuable team member: the “team player”?  Or the one who says; “If you’re going to be this stupid, count me out.”

I would love to hear some ideas for developing institutional baloney detectors, and turning the usual value equation around.

NOTES… see also:

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Stupidly worded poll

February 22, 2010 Comments off

I don’t know what “GMTV” is, but from their website, here’s a remarkably stupid poll: Could you live without technology?

Unless you are one of a tiny handful of self-sufficient hermits the answer is no, you couldn’t.  It has nothing to do with your Blackberry; if all “technology” (depending how you define it) disappeared tomorrow, most of the world’s population would die rather horribly before things settled down to a brutish and short medieval existence.  You know – back when all food was organic and everyone lived in harmony with Nature, including the plague, intestinal parasites, and death from preventable diseases and treatable injuries.  And most of us never traveled further than 50 miles from the place of our births in our entire lives. If “Nature” were your mother, she’d be in prison for child abuse and neglect.

I know, I know; “stupidly worded poll” is almost a redundancy.

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Sunday morning portal to Hell

February 20, 2010 Comments off

Amazing the things you find in ordinary places:

From Notes

Spotted under the Linden Street bridge in Normal, Illinois, a few blocks South of the police station.  I expected it to be under a bridge, sure, but here?  Not in, maybe, Rome, or London, or some other place that more than .000002% of the world’s population have heard of?  I guess old Scratch just has the common touch.  Or maybe lots of portals.

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Things I should have blogged, but didn’t

February 19, 2010 Comments off

Some unblogged bits that really got my attention.  In reverse order of seriousity:

And no, to the best of my knowledge, “seriousity” is not a cromulent word.

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“Dear Dr. Laura”…

February 19, 2010 Comments off

This was written by Kent Ashcraft, whom I have met and occasionally sends me his stuff. It’s been floating around the Internet for quite a while and I’m posting a copy here for reference:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly
states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you
clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.


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The octogenarian meets Linux, part 3

February 19, 2010 Comments off

A couple weeks ago I sent my mother a Linux machine and promised to let you know how it turned out.

She seems to like it just fine.  I suppose mileage would vary depending on what she wanted to do with it, but mostly it’s an Internet machine. 

The system is based on a tiny Intel motherboard with an integrated Atom processor, with 2 gb RAM, in a box about the size of a 2-slice toaster.  The barebones kit was only $170, and I added a DVD burner for $25 and an old 320 GB hard drive that I had in my box of comput-o-leftovers.  Then I installed Ubuntu 9.10, and she used her existing monitor, keyboard, mouse and printer.  Since her last machine was pushing 8 years old, it was time for… something.

Someone asked me yesterday; “Linux!  Is she coding Perl on it now?”

Um… no.  But from all indications she’s using it successfully.  I’ve done a couple introductory support calls, where we explored the Ubuntu desktop and got her printer set up.  She’s surfing the web, and Gmail on broadband seems to be more practical for her than Juno on dial-up. If you need a net machine (or for that matter it’s a pretty decent computer in its own right) this is a combination worth considering.  I’ll keep you posted on her exploration of Linux as developments occur.  Especially if she suddenly starts coding Perl.

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What would they have thought?

February 17, 2010 Comments off

On my “cardio-theater” (which consists of a small DVD player on a shelf in front of my treadmill) I’m watching the first season of Heroes.  It’s a good show, and each episode ends with a fast-stepping, very cool but somewhat creepy little bit of theme music.

I’ve always wondered what people would think if you went back to some historical era and played modern music (presumably with the instruments of the time).  Would people in 700 AD “get” that music at all?  Or the theme music from “Jurassic Park”?  Anything by Philip Glass? Would it make any emotional sense at all? 

Maybe Hiro Nakumura could tell us.  But speaking of Hiro, while looking up his name, I noticed you can buy your very own Samurai sword just like his. It’s a real sword made of tempered steel and even has the Heroes logo on it.  I hope people who buy it realize that in addition to being a nifty bit of show memorabilia, it is also a deadly weapon.

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Holly is doing a little better this morning

February 17, 2010 Comments off
From Cats

This picture is from five years ago; she always had a slight build. 

Now, she’s frail.  The Vet asked MrsDoF if we were sure she’s only 14.  Yes, we are, and her brother Oscar is hale and healthy despite an arthritic hip.  But she’s not doing well, down to only 8 lbs and Sunday she hardly moved at all.

Still, she seems to have perked up a bit since the vet.  A shot of antibiotics, and now insulin she’ll receive in addition to her thyroid medicine.  Maybe it’s selfish, but I didn’t want her to go in Winter.  She loves being outside in the warm sun.

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