Archive for September, 2007

2007 manhattan Short Film Festival

September 29, 2007 3 comments

Local theaters are wonderful.  The Historic Normal Theater just showed the 2007 Manhattan Short Film Festival, which was followed by an international voting for the best one.  Our theater was the only one in Illinois hosting the event.

My favorites in order were Lines, Clooney, Boris’ Complete Book Of Rules, and The Prestidigitator.  Lots of people were very impressed by 1/100 of a second but I thought it pushed emotional buttons in a rather clumsy fashion. Feeling Lonely was a very obvious reworking of Rear Window and I Want To Be A Pilot was like the world’s most tedious Christian Children’s Fund commercial.  The others were so-so. 

Lines could be, and should be, made into a series for high-school kids.  You could do an awful lot with the main character they created and I think it would be massively popular. Unfortunately it has not hit YouTube yet.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

A question about highways

September 29, 2007 2 comments

I’m trying to figure something out.  Should Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) be subject to regulation, or should trucking companies be encouraged to set their own limits?  Explain.

The next generation (of bugs)

September 27, 2007 3 comments

I was taking apart an old bicycle wheel and found a neat row of insect eggs on one of the spokes:

I guess a stainless steel spoke is as good as a twig.  Anyone know what kind of insect lays eggs like this?

Categories: Nature, observations

Windows Vista is so bad that Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and Lenovo customers want XP back

September 25, 2007 6 comments

As if Excel’s inability to do basic arithmetic weren’t bad enough, Microsoft Vista is so awful that users and manufacturers have pressured the company to allow them to go back to using Windows XP.  (From Corpus Callosum)

Let me get this straight: Microsoft spent $6bn to develop Vista, and a year after it hit the market, major manufactuers are asking for the old Windows™ back?  OUCH!  Who’s in charge of product design at Microsoft, Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown?

Seriously, someone with an eight-figure salary ought to be fired over this.  Maybe the next version of Windows will run on SUSE the way Apple’s OS runs on a *nix base. 

Categories: Geeky, Software

Microsoft Excel’s New Math

September 25, 2007 2 comments

We tend to trust numbers that spit out of spreadsheets, right?  I mean, computers are objective and trustworthy!

Not so much.  Excel 2007 has a major bug.  If you multiply 850 times 77.1, the answer comes out to be 100,000.

Maybe it’s time to update Pierre Gallois’ famous quote:

“If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no one dares criticize it.”
- Pierre Gallois

How about …“And even if you put good numbers into Excel, tomfoolery may still come out.”

Even my old slide rule, with its 3-sig limited accuracy, delivers 65,5xx… a much smaller error, and easy enough to resolve to the full number with a couple more steps.


  • In the comments Ed posted a very good link below to Joel On Software Explaining the Excel Bug – especially interesting because Joel worked on early versions of Excel.

  • and Mark at Good Math, Bad Math, discusses The Excel 65,535=100,000 Bug and floating-point operations as related to display and printing.
Categories: Geeky, Software

Taleban allow polio vaccinations to resume

September 24, 2007 2 comments

BBC Reports that the Afghan Taleban ‘to honour polio drive’.  Well isn’t that good of them.  They’re the ones who in the past have been spreading the lie that the polio vaccine made Muslims sterile, or caused AIDS or tuberculosis.  We should be completely done with polio by now.  But the Taleban are directly responsible for the fact that Afghanistan is one of only a few places on Earth where polio has not been wiped out. 

Wonder what changed their minds?

Ahh… I finally dumped Linux and got back to Windows!

September 22, 2007 8 comments

Over the last several months, I’ve been using a couple different flavors of Linux on my IBM/Lenovo X40 laptop, with the idea of writing a review of desktop Linux the way I did for the Apple laptop that I borrowed.  Of course, since I didn’t have to give Linux back in a month, I used it for a greater length of time.

As with the Apple, I didn’t try to become a super-geek in the OS being tested.  The parameters of the test were a knowledgeable Windows user stranded with the unfamiliar OS, sink or swim.

Linux worked pretty well, though there were a couple extremely annoying glitches.  In the final analysis I just preferred Windows XP more, and Windows is the native home for two of my six favorite applications. (Yes, I know it is possible to tuck then into Wine but then I’m not really testing the Linux apps, am I?)

This is only a review-preview.  I just started working on the actual review, which will be ready when it’s ready.  In the meantime, here Information Week’s very pessimistic assessment of Linux’ chances at desktop dominance.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Science Friday: driving without headlights

September 21, 2007 7 comments

The Arecibo radiotelescope observatory is a top scientific instrument, unique in all the world.  In addition to looking deeply into the universe, it is also the highest-resolution device we have for mapping Earth-colliding objects.  It can probe the Moon for water, and much, much more.  It’s a tremendous bargain at $8m/yr to run.

And it’s in danger of closing for want of the US contribution of four million bucks a year, or about 20 minutes’ cost for the Iraq war

Why do instruments like the Hubble and Arecibo, which are great bargains, have to go begging for funds, while flashy wasteful projects like the International Space Station go on hemorrhaging our tax dollars and returning nothing?  (Just for comparison, you could run Arecibo for 1,600 years for what it will cost to finish the scientifically useless International Space Station.)  One reason could be that in a jaw-dropping 1994 act of bean-counting foolishness,  the Republican-controlled congress closed the Office of Technology Assessment, the non-partisan scientific auditing arm of our legislative branch.  This is like not replacing the headlights on your car to save lunch money. 

There’s a proposal and a petition to bring back the OTA.  There’s certainly never been a better time to spend a little bit of dough to make sure we’re getting the biggest bang for our science buck.  Check out the link, write your congressman, sign the petition, and help unlobotomize Congress.


The Jena Six

September 20, 2007 4 comments

I’ve been watching the Jena Six case.  You know – in Jena, La, where some white teens thought it would be hilarious to hang three nooses on a tree where some black teens had sat down, and a year of increasing tension followed with fights and arson and white kids being charged with mopery and black kids being charged with felonies.  And an internet-driven protest brought reportedly 20,000 protesters to the little town of 2,000 souls.  (Where did they all go to the bathroom?)

Events like this have a way of bringing out the stupid in everyone.  What’s the dumbest statement to come out of the whole sorry affair?

We’ve made progress, yes.  But I think our problem today is classism as an echo of racism.  Some aspects of black culture appear to be poisoned by past oppressions and ill-conceived remedies.  Some aspects of white culture seem to be in deep denial. (Overlooking the absurd idea that either blacks or whites have a monolithic culture.)  Truly the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons and the son’s sons, and down through the generations. It does not help that so many “leaders” are preening opportunists trying to get in front of the camera any way they can.

Links and updates (most recent first):

  • The Jena protests were internet-driven, and so is the White Supremacist backlash

  • I’ve read a lot of chatter online that attempted murder was the right charge.  That seems unlikely; if six athletic kids don’t kill one unconscious guy on the ground, and he ends up with only minor injuries, they weren’t trying to kill him..  But it is still assault and last I checked, that is a crime.
  • 25 September – our favorite Louisiana blogger has this update: a Michigan congressman is trying to get one of the 6 released, and Rev. Sharpton says the “next step is nonviolent civil disobedience”.  I predict there will be more violence.  Someone in this country IS keeping racism alive and well, and this cartoon sums it up pretty well
  • Here’s a good editorial by Roland Martin on CNN. 

  • Lest we get too teary-eyed about the poor teen offender victim, Jason Whitlock of fills in some of the blanks the MSM missed. (via Cajun, who has a lot to say about the culture of victimhood)
  • Democratic candidates are of course making quite a bit of noise, but Republican hopeful Fred Thompson gave it one-shrug-up

If I ever see a noose hanging from a tree branch, I’m cutting it down right then and there.  That’s Just.  Not.  Funny.

Categories: Politics

It’s nice to see someone enjoying his work

September 19, 2007 1 comment

I found this little guy and thousands of his friends hard at work in the Quad today:

“Oh-boy!  Flowers!  Mmmmmm!  Just can’t get enough of ‘em! 
Hey, there’s some more!!!…”

Categories: Nature, observations