Archive for September, 2005

The Politics Test

September 28, 2005 10 comments

Why do we do these things?  I took The Politics Test

You are a

Social Liberal
(70% permissive)

and an…

Economic Conservative
(61% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test  on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Categories: Politics

Really busy news day

September 28, 2005 Comments off

I hardly know where to begin with all of today’s news.  Tom DeLay was indicted for corruption, and blamed a “political witch hunt”.  Well, he should remember what one of those looks like from the good ol’ days of impeaching Bill Clinton. 

Bill Frist is facing a hot seat too: it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.  I diagnose – on the basis of a few seconds of heavily edited video – that Frist’s ethics have been brain-dead for years and he’s playing his political base.  The appearance of real political convictions is just an illusion, a reflex action.

You remember Mike Brown, former head of FEMA (Motto: “We hadn’t heard that”) who was just rehired by his own former agency as a $148,000/yr consultant.  He blames Louisiana politics for his inability to watch the news and find out what we all knew about, well, everything.  Of his own performance he rejoins: “I do a damn good job.”  His boss Michael Chertoff declined to comment, saying only that Brown had “a right to his own opinion.”

Mayor Ray “Pissed” Nagin said he felt “sorry” for Brown, being grilled by Congress like that.  Maybe he sees a little of his own future, and it ain’t pretty.

Extending a ruinous precedent, president Bush has decided to cut checks to victims of Hurricane Rita to match what was done for victims of Katrina.

In other news, a bunch of stuff blew up in Iraq, and they’re firing rockets over the wall between Palestine and Israel, but who’s paying attention to that corner of the world?  Muslim extremists must be feeling a bit neglected these days. 

Finally, over 300,000 people had to be evacuated from the Yen Bai province of Vietnam as Typhoon Damrey approached.  The storm is described as “one of the worst in years”.  But global warming probably had nothing to do with it.

Categories: Politics

Mostly Cajun hit hard by Rita

September 26, 2005 1 comment

One of my favorite bloggers is Mostly Cajun, who hails from Southern Louisiana.  Cajun is an outstanding writer who can tell a story and make a point, and make you feel like you’re right there with him.  (I even enjoy his political rants from over on the Republican side of the aisle.)  His day job is fixing high-voltage electrical equipment, keeping the wheels of industry all around Louisiana and Texas turning so us Yankees can drive our cars and stay warm in the winter, among other things.  He’s an archetype of my preference for people who can do things. 

Oh yeah, I said “Southern Louisiana”.  He evacuated as hurricane Rita approached.  And what happened after that is staggering to think about:

“… smoke was pouring out of my house. I called 9-1-1 to report the fire. After I finished reporting, I ran to the house to see if I could break in windows to let out my cats, but the smoke and the fierce heat coming off the building were so much that I couldn’t get within a few yards.

The local fire department responded very fast, but when they got there, the community water system was dry, killed by Hurrican Rita. They called for assistance from several nearby fire departments who transported water in, but the house was a total loss.

Did you ever think about what you lose? Four loyal pets, irreplaceable. Itty, Splot, Mollie, Callie, my four cats, Mom and Dad’s photo albums, photos of the past 80 years. My library books I’d acquired over the past twenty-odd years. My gun collection, Personal papers, On and on and on; All gone. Devastation is an over-used word. I use it here…”
- Mostly Cajun, Still alive, but battered.  Click the link to go read the whole post.

To try to grasp the feelings of one person who has lost so much – there’s no way to scale it up in your head when you look at aerial photos of whole areas destroyed, thousands of homes. 

Writing from a coffee shop hot zone, he credits the people in his company, and his neighbors and friends with support and help.  There is not much I can do from Illinois except send my best wishes.  Take care, Cajun; we’re all rooting for you.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Brewster Rockit explains Schrödinger

September 25, 2005 1 comment

Looking for a good exposition of Schrödinger’s famous quantum cat?  Check with idiot space captain, Brewster Rockit! (Click the picture and navigate to Sunday 25 Sept ‘05 episode to see the whole comic) only shows the most recent month’s comic, so after 25 October it won’t be available.  Here’s the text:

Brewster narrates:
“Hello Rockiteers!  Time for this week’s edition of ‘Rockit Science.’”
Brewster in foreground, Dr. Mel Practice and Winky in background with box on tabletop.

“This week we look at Schrödinger’s Cat.  In 1935, physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment to explain superposition, or how something can have two properties at once according to quantum physics.”
“If you put a cat in a box, and set it up so that the cat has an equal chance of being alive or dead, the cat is actually both alive and dead.  Wierd, Huh?”
Dr. Mel Practice reaches to open box as Winky observes.  Brewster continues:

“Only until the cat is actually observed would both possibilities collapse into one reality.  So… dead or alive?  We’re going to settle this once and for all.”
Cat jumps out of box hissing, attacks Winky
Cat clawing Winky’s head…

Brewster: “There you have it. Schrödinger’s cat is alive and hacked off about being stuck in a box.

Dr. Mel Practice: “This ‘Rockit Science’ moment is brought to you by Schrödinger’s Cat-Litter Box.  If you don’t observe it, you won’t have to change it.”

Sagan said, in 1995…

September 25, 2005 1 comment

Offered without comment, a paragraph from Carl Sagan’s 1995 book The Demon Haunted World

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in whch most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.  We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology.  This is a prescription for disaster.  We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces…”

Now it’s ten years later.  All too familiar…

Categories: Geeky, observations

The joy of Office™

September 22, 2005 2 comments

Kinda says it all…

“Office has become a case study for feature creep—the phenomenon in which a simple technology becomes complicated and unmanageable through the addition of new features. Office, which once had 100 commands neatly organized into menus, ballooned to contain some 1,500 commands located in scores of menus, toolbars and dialog boxes.” (emphasis mine)
-Tech Republic: Office 12 makeover takes on “Feature Creep”

To understand the problem, compare your computer to your car.  Driving is an extremely complicated task with a simple goal: arrival.  Yet your car has few controls.  Imagine if your car had 1,500 controls on the dashboard.  Some are hidden, some are mislabeled, and some will just crash the car or cause it to go off course with no apparent way to correct. Your car maker, trying to “help” you, removes English labels from the controls and substitutes a tiny picture on each one that is intended to suggest its function… and the controls move around on the dashboard so the most recently used ones are near the steering wheel (or on it) and the rest all hide themselves.

That’s what it is like to use Microsoft Office.  It is a case-study in bad interface design.  Like some corporate “Bill Clinton”, Microsoft feels your pain: they are redesigning Office with more contextual menus called “ribbons”. 

Much to my surprise, it looks like they’re doing a pretty good job. (click link for series of screen shots)

But I have another suggestion: how about removing unwanted features?  I hope they’re doing that.  I just don’t hear people saying; “How can I get more cute animated characters onscreen?”  or “I want all the pages to display four to a screen, but print full page.” 

People want straightforward page formatting, not an exercise in jargon and abstraction.  We do NOT want text to “auto-format” when pasted in from another source.

Remember the Stanley Tools maxim: “People don’t want drills, they want holes”.  Note to Microsoft: people don’t want to “use software”;  they want to communicate.  The most effective communicators understand the expression, “less is more”.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Tom DeLay, space exploration, and Bugs Bunny

September 20, 2005 3 comments

“(The moon mission) is expensive, but at the same time it’s incredibly important because the return to the people of the United states and the world is also very important.”
- Tom Delay, R-Texas, House majority leader

That’s $104 billion dollars “expensive,” Tom; to send some clown to an airless rock.  I wouldn’t mind if there a scientific purpose that couldn’t be just as well served by sending a robot.  Which reminds me…

Tom DeLay wouldn’t know a scientific purpose if it jumped up on his desk and knocked his coffee into his lap.  He’s part of the whole anti-science, ‘Intelligent Design’ teaching, global warming denying, stem-cell restricting, brainless Terri Schaivo saving bunch that has shown a consistent inability to distinguish science from technology, way up on their lofty perch atop the religious tower of babble that passes for the Grand Old Party these days. 

This is the same crowd that can’t come up with one shuttle mission to fix the most productive single scientific instrument of the last century, the Hubble Space Telescope.  All the shuttle missions are tied up completing a useless tin can full of bored astronauts that goes round and round, and round some more while producing very close to zero science.

So what about Bugs Bunny?  Well, remember the episode where our rabbit hero is Shanghaied onto a rocket ship for a trip to Mars?  (I believe that is the episode which introduced our diminuitive, destructive little friend, Marvin Martian)  Enroute to the red planet, he asks the voice in the radio; “Eh… why send a rabbit, doc?”  The answer shouts out of the speaker at him; “Because RABBITS are EXPENDABLE, that’s why!!!”

Actually, it would be considerably cheaper to send a robot than a rabbit to Mars.  Rabbits have to eat food, dispose of waste, and breathe air, which implies an extensive infrastructure that is prohibitively difficult to send on such a long mission across the airless void.  Add to that the well-known propensity of human passengers to go stark raving bonkers cooped up with few others of their kind while isolated from the world, and you take a major chunk out of the mission’s probability of success right there.

Robots?  They’re content to sit in total vacuum at 200 degrees below zero for 14 months, then spring into action.  And they’re cheap enough that if a few don’t make it, we’ll shrug, redesign, and send more. 

Our economy could use a boost from an emerging technology, and since we can’t really do much with genetic engineering or stem cells (thanks to protests on both the extreme left and the extreme right), robotics seems a logical place to aim our development.  And there’s no better proving ground for robotics than isolated, inhospitable places like the moon or Mars.

That, Mr. DeLay, is technology, not science.  But it could deliver science to our world right along with the economic-boom technology. 

By the way, before you tell me “the spirit of man needs to explore space” or some such drivel, remember that human explorers of our own world could find air and food while they went (mostly) in search of an economic rationale for travel.  Remember Columbus’ mission?  “To find a new route to the Orient.”

We will colonize space shortly after finding an economic reason to go there.  But space is awfully big, and we could use up a lot of explorers (and money) unnecessarily in the search.  Remember… ROBOTS are EXPENDABLE!!!

Life Expectency

September 19, 2005 Comments off

The temperature dropped thirty degrees in fewer than that many minutes.  From a third-story office window, I watched the sky turn slate grey, rain blow into turbulence above nearby rooftops, and huge trees whip back and forth like stopsigns.  It was pretty cool.

Yeah, I’m not a “run to the basement person”.  Figure that against my expected lifespan, which according to this test, is eighty.  Of course, my answers to the test were probably somewhat optimistic.  Thanks to Pig Vs. Swine for pointing out the test

A couple hours later, this is what our street looked like.

Categories: Personal

Today is Constitution Day

September 17, 2005 2 comments

While we’re arguing about whether John Roberts will uphold Roe v. Wade once he’s on the Supreme Court, let’s not forget to read the constitution of our country.  You can order your own free pocket-sized copy at the American Bar Association’s Constitution education website.  You can also take a Constitution quiz, and – all you teachers – find educational resources.  Also read ABA president Michael S. Greco’s essay, Constitution still relevant to people in America.

John Roberts will probably be a good judge who will uphold the constitution.  That’s what has people on both the extreme right and extreme left worried.  They don’t want a good judge; they want a judge in their pocket.

Categories: Politics

Spreading her wings

September 16, 2005 Comments off

We had a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis in the office today.  The little green pod turned clear, the bug crawled out, and began to dry off.  After a couple hours, our new project specialist Abhilasha carried it to the trail to release it into the wild.

There are very few bugs that size that don’t simply make my skin crawl but I must admit it is rather pretty.  And it was nifty to watch it come out of the chrysalis.  (Click picture to embiggen)

Later, we all received this email from Abhilasha:

The butterfly flew around 10 m to a rose bush around 1 hour after we released it on a tree and sat on a rose flower where it just sat for 1/2 an hour..Donno what happened after that

Here is the pic of the butterfly on the rose..taken through my cellphone


I have no idea if it really is a girl butterfly but our student worker knew somehow and he said it was.  Anyway, there you go.

Categories: Geeky