Archive for January, 2007

59mpg in a plain old Accord… beat that, punk

January 30, 2007 2 comments

While I’m not a ‘hypermiler’, I do usually get better mileage than most people do with the same model car.  It’s a game to me to mesh smoothly with traffic, and drive all the way through town without ever tapping the brake.  But this guy totally has me beat:

Drafting 18-wheelers with the engine off, taking death turns at 52 miles an hour, and other lessons learned while riding shotgun with the king of the hypermilers… Around Wayne is madness in motion: Drivers in four lanes are accelerating hard, weaving erratically, or grinding to a halt. To Wayne, these are the driving habits of the ignorant and the wasteful—which is to say, nearly all of us. Wayne’s car glides to a stop as if it has run out of gas. Wayne has stopped without braking…
- Mother Jones: “This guy can get 59mpg in a plain old Accord.  Beat that, punk.

Wayne’s probably pretty extreme in traffic – there’s something to learn from him but it would be maddening to drive behind him as he coasts to a stop.  One suggestion if you want better gas mileage is; ride a bicycle.  When you are the engine, you become conscious of energy usage relative to acceleration.  You learn that braking is the enemy.  You learn to plan ahead, which you can apply in your car.

There’s a general principle here; no machine is better than its user, and an attentive user can get the most out of any machine.  Want a faster computer?  Learn a few keyboard shortcuts, you’ll save way more time than a new processor will.  Tired of giving your money to the Ay-rabs?  Put down your cell phone and drive.  Think you need a better camera?  Read a book on composition and lighting.  No matter how good our gadgets get, it still comes down to the human.

But don’t draft semi trucks; leave that to Wayne. 

What science fiction writer are you?

January 27, 2007 3 comments
I am:
Hal Clement
(Harry C Stubbs)

A quiet and underrated master of “hard science” fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?

(from UTI)

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Mac on loan, part one

January 26, 2007 9 comments

I have a MacBook on loan from Apple Computer; here it is beside my ThinkPad X40.  My first impressions: 1) Wireless networking easier to use than any laptop I have ever seen.  2) “Intuitive” means “whatever you are accustomed to using.”  It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to open a new tab in Safari, and I still can’t open a blank one. 3) The keyboard is very high quality but flat keys seem odd to me.  4) Despite quite sophisticated power management the battery life is nowhere near that of my X40.  4) The screen is fantastic.  5) Would it kill Apple to make a real right and left button for me to click on? 6) You have to use a dongle to hook up an external monitor. 7) Though a distinct improvement on earlier MacBooks, it doesn’t strike me as being that durable 8)  It enters and recovers from “sleep mode” very smoothly 9) It is really, really fast. 

In other news, I got SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 installed on my ThinkPad X23.  My first impressions: 1) It is easy to use, 2) except for the wireless which I haven’t got working yet, 3) it comes with a TON of very well-designed software.  BTW I much prefer OpenOffice to MS Office.  3) The screen looks nicer than with Windows – SUSE apparently has some very good video drivers.  4) It is faster than Windows XP on the same machine.  And of course 5) it has a better command line than XP.  (I miss my programmable text editor, though.  Will have to find a *nix version of Notepad++  and hopefully an Apple version too)

So I have 3 operating systems for the next month.  I will definitely write a huge head-to-head comparison ‘round the beginning of March.

Categories: Geeky, hardware

The substance that wasn’t there

January 26, 2007 2 comments

I promised to write more about the State Of The Union address, but upon reading the transcript, there was only one subject that caught my attention and I already wrote about that.  However a number of really important topics were completely left out of the speech so Bush could talk about subway heroes and other feel-good topics.

But University of Maryland physicist Bob Park did write about the missing subjects with his usual economy of perspective. 

The thing is, while Iraq is a horrible situation, there are actually worse things, which the president ignored.  Some of them are even tangentally related to Iraq.

Categories: Politics

Warm kitchen

January 25, 2007 1 comment

… and soon, oatmeal with walnuts, cranberries and brown sugar.  And a cup of tea.

Categories: Personal

It’s because he’s a uniter, not a divider

January 24, 2007 1 comment

The sidebar reads; “Reflecting new reality, he urges bipartisanship”. 

Great idea, Mister President.  I sure wish you’d thought of it a few years ago. You’ve spent your entire administration accusing everyone who even wants to ask questions of being unpatriotic.  You’ve bullied your way on every issue and dismissed everyone’s concerns but your own, as if you had a clue about anything.  NOW you want to play nice…  feh.

Bipartisanship only has meaning when you do it for your country even when you don’t have to.  If you paint yourself into a corner and then suddenly take an interest in consensus…

Categories: Politics

State Of The Union Address, part 1

January 23, 2007 6 comments

I listened to some of the State Of The Union address tonight – as much as I could stomach with the audience breaking in a hundred times or so with applause.  This is why i prefer to read a transcript the next day.  Maybe a future candidate will promise; “I will let my press secretary read my SOTU each year.  Nobody sucks up to press secretaries so you won’t have to listen to all the pointless applause.”

Bush appealed for us to give his new policy “a chance to work.”  Hell, I’m for that – the president ought to have at least one thing turn out right during his term in office.

But seriously…

GRANTING that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and we never should have invaded in the first place, and that it probably was a misplaced vendetta by our decider-in-chief, and granting that the war has been mismanaged in just about every way imaginable, and stipulating that it has damaged us internationally and taken resources away from Afghanistan, which is neither finished nor won… granting all that…

The president is probably right.  You know the saying about a stopped clock – right twice a day.  If we pull out now and leave Baghdad unprotected, it will make a horrible situation, even worse.

This is not to say that the president’s plan guarantees success – actually the chances are slim at best.  But we broke it, we bought it.  The best we can hope for is some stability in the next year or so.  To me this is a debatable judgment call; I am not by any means certain about it.  So I won’t bite your head off if you disagree but that’s my take on it.

Don’t forget this come next election, though.  Try for a Democratic president – even if it’s Hillary (ugh) – and maybe a Republican Senate and Democratic house.  Do not let any one party have total control, ever again.

I’ll have more to say this weekend after studying the transcript. 

Categories: Politics

The vault of our being

January 21, 2007 2 comments

The next book on my list is The varieties of scientific experience, by Carl Sagan.  And while doing a Linux install this afternoon, I got to mucking about on YouTube…

The neurology in this piece is a bit dated but unfortunately Carl Sagan isn’t available to do a new cut.  Nevertheless it is awe inspiring to consider the innermost cathedral.

Categories: Science & Technology

I have HAD IT with these m-f SNAKES in this m-f CITY!!!

January 20, 2007 1 comment

A record drought in Australia has driven snakes in search of water:

Many venomous reptiles are moving into residential and business areas in search of moisture. Last week a 16-year-old boy in Sydney died from a bite by an Eastern Brown, one of the world’s deadliest snakes.

Many parts of Australia have been hard-hit by the drought, described as the worst for more than 100 years. Experts have warned that an army of snakes is on the move, looking for water. Driven by extreme thirst they have been discovered in gardens, bedrooms and even Australian shopping centres.

Hospitals have reported a rising number of snakebites. Toxicologists have said there have been 60 serious cases since September.
- BBC News: Australians face snake invasion

Most of the websites I checked said that the risk from snakebites in Australia is overstated – Oz has “7 of the 10 most venomous snakes in the world, if you are a mouse”.  (I liked this one: “Alcohol is involved in a significant number of snake bites”)  But the same article says; “Largely due to their behaviour, Australia’s poisonous snakes are actually some of the least dangerous in the world.”  Unless, I suppose, something like a drought changed their behavior.

The only venomous snakes I’ve encountered were rattlesnakes and one time a copperhead.  Neither are particularly dangerous if you keep your eyes open and don’t bother them.  And neither is likely to kill you even if you do get bitten.

I’d much rather encounter a rattler than an irritated pit bull.  Rattlers can only strike half their length, so take two steps back and you’re fine.  They won’t chase you because you’re too big to eat.  Dogs, on the other hand, are territorial pack animals, often give chase, and can run 25mph.

One rattler I encountered in Washington state was snoozing.  I was climbing a cliff at Vantage on the Columbia river.  As I raised my head above the edge of a plateau, I found myself face-to-face with a rattler, coiled up under a sagebrush.

Ah – I’ll just be going, then.  I lowered back down and inched along the ledge, climbing up again several feet away.  I’ll admit my heart beat a bit faster but i couldn’t afford to get very agitated as gravity was a far bigger hazard in that situation than the snake would be.  If the snake ever noticed me, it gave no sign.

(Title: with apologies to Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes On A Plane)

Smoke free

January 18, 2007 29 comments

Every Saturday morning, MrsDoF and i go on a date to a restaurant in Bloomington to have a nice breakfast together.  Usually it’s coffee, eggs, pancakes, sausage, and coffee, and cigarette smoke.  We wait around for a “non-smoking” table but oddly enough smoke manages to find us anyway.

I’m pretty libertarian about personal behavior and as much as I dislike smoke while I’m eating, I’ve never said anything to anyone or campaigned for any smoking bans.  I put up with smoking because the smoke-free restaurant is eight to ten bucks a plate, while our regular haunt is a less pretentious four bucks, give or take.

But on 01 January, both Bloomington and Normal (yes, that is our town’s name) put into effect one of those newfangled “smoking bans” in restaurants.

It’s really nice.  The restaurant seems as crowded as ever, but we walk in and are seated right away.  The air is clear all the way to the back wall.  It’s refreshing and the food even tastes better.  So i don’t know if it’s an offense against personal freedom – you could make that argument I guess – but i like it.  Just hope it doesn’t hurt the restaurant owners.

Categories: Law, Politics