Archive for March, 2008

Out like a lion

March 31, 2008 3 comments


Notice the wind

I’m starting to think the two grand I spent last summer to take out three rickety old trees to the South of our house… was a good investment.

At a larger scale

March 31, 2008 6 comments

(From The World’s Fair, based on Running The Numbers, An American Portrait.)
A musical masterpiece?  Probably not.  But next time someone tells you “our little movements couldn’t do anything to such a big planet”, consider this…

From Dan Pfiffer, Earth’s atmosphere and oceans if they were gathered into a sphere and compared to our planet.  Our tendency as small, short-lived beings is to look up into the atmosphere and think that it is high, or down into the oceans and think that they are deep. 

And so they are, but not so high or so deep that we cannot pollute them, change them, and put the other living beings therein at risk (and thus ourselves as well).  But take a tabletop globe and spray on a single coat of varnish.  When the solvent evaporates, leaving only the thin polymer coating, that’s about the proprtionate thickness of the atmosphere. 

Dump in eight thousand million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and you’ll change its composition a little bit, and along with its composition, you change its heat transmissivity.  It’s probably OK though.  Let’s call up somebody on Venus and ask them what they think.

Categories: Uncategorized

I think I might have Web 2.0 disease

March 30, 2008 1 comment

It’s finally happened.  I was sitting at the table, reading the dead-trees edition of Chicago Tribune, and when I got to the end of a particularly interesting article, I paused.  I felt a vague unease; something was missing, but what?

Oh yeah… there was no place to click to leave a comment. Man, newspapers are so screwed. 

Update: see Coturnix’ post on Generation is a mindset, not age.  Like I been sayin’!

Categories: Media, Reviews

Computerized assault

March 29, 2008 1 comment

Via Slashdot, here is a link to a story about the sickest example of computer hacking I’ve ever heard of.  Allegedly, someone put some posts a message board for the Epilepsy Foundation which included flashing lights.  Flashing things can cause seizures and migraines in a small percentage of epileptics, and apparently did cause symptoms in a few individuals.  Things like this really make me wonder what goes on the minds of some people.  What on Earth would possess anyone to do this?  I hope that the person or people responsible for this are caught, and charged with assault.  For severe epileptics, seizures can be deadly, so maybe an attempted murder charge would be in order as well.

Categories: Uncategorized

Candorville on Offense

March 29, 2008 Comments off

The main character in ‘Candorville’ is Lemont, a cartoonist living in modern times.  Incensed by the Secret Service decision to stop screening the crowd for weapons at an Obama rally in Dallas (of all places) he decides to travel back in time to 1865 to persuade a cartoonist named Thomas Nast to advocate for better security for Abraham Lincoln.  Nast agrees, but is shot down by his editor:

Thomas Nast… hadn’t I heard that name somewhere?  Turns out I had, in my dim memories of college history.  If you click his name link above, you’ll probably recognize some of his cartoons – they’re all over the history books.

(You can read the rest of the Lamont-Nast story at the Candorville link, for a while at least.  Comic sites usually keep stuff up for about a month.)

Categories: Geeky, History

A less serious frame on “Expelled”

March 29, 2008 1 comment

If you’ve been following the Expelled kerfluffle (in which a notorious biology professor was pre-emptively kicked out of a screening of a creationist propaganda film to which he was invited)  this should bring you up to speed:

Dawkins as Eminem? (maybe – it’s not like I have a comprehensive knowledge of rap stars)… The dancing Darwin at the end was my favorite part.

The good outcome from all this is that it seems to have been cathartic for the biology professor in question; he’s writing good stuff again like he used to a couple years ago.  Oh, he’s still a jerk, that hasn’t changed.  But it does seem to have blown the carbon off the valves for him.

Categories: Humor, observations

I for one welcome our new mathematical overlords…

March 28, 2008 1 comment

So why didn’t I make Lucas a guest author before?  Simple… I’m too dumb to figure out how member-status assignment works in ExpressionEngine!  But I finally found an EE Wiki that put it in blunt enough crayon even for me, and here we are.  Welcome Lucas!  Tell us about your many exploits on Barsoom…

(The title is a Simpson’s reference, in which newscaster Kent Brockman believes giant insects are about to take over the Earth…)

Categories: Blogging, Geeky


March 28, 2008 Comments off

My friend Pete has been commuting on a bicycle for one year.  Here’s a sample:

  • I’ve noticed the seasons a bit more. Nuances in the way Summer slips into Fall and Fall slips into Winter are just stunning.

  • I’ve lost a bit of weight. I’m down at least 10 pounds due to biking…

There’s also a pic of his bike after a year’s commuting in all weather; it’s holding up very well (“Friends don’t let friends ride junk”) and so is he.  If you’re thinking about ditching the car, check it out.

Facebook wants to be the next Microsoft

March 28, 2008 1 comment

…at least in the respect of “Non standards-compliant, increasingly bloated, complex, and irrelevant”.  Not surprising since Microsoft owns a small chunk of Facebook.  Could 1.6% ownership be enough influence to steer them away from the emerging OpenSocial standard?

“Facebook is a supporter of open source and sees value in any contributions the foundation may make to the industry. Facebook is not joining this foundation, but the company remains focused on advancing Facebook Platform to benefit the developer community and help users communicate and share information more efficiently… Facebook will continue to work with other trusted partners to explore new initiatives around data portability,” Facebook’s spokesperson said.

Bblbbitt!  Yeah, a “new initiative” about every 11 months, with no connection to the previous ones.  In other words, “When we say; ‘data portability’ we mean ‘frustrating divisions between our product and enormous chunks of the market as a whole’”.  Seriously.  If you work with Microsoft software you know that it isn’t even compatible with itself over more than two iterations. I can open a Word 6.0 file on my Linux machine more easily than I can on my Windows box.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Guest post by Lucas:  Kurzweil, “exponential thought”, and gee-whiz numbers

March 27, 2008 4 comments

Ok, you can call me pedantic, but this article on Ray Kurzweil (link at end) has an error which should have been caught at the copyediting stage:

“But Kurzweil had a special confidence that grew from a habit of mind he’d been cultivating for years: He thought exponentially. To illustrate what this means, consider the following quiz: 2, 4, ?, ?.

“What are the missing numbers? Many people will say 6 and 8. This suggests a linear function. But some will say the missing numbers are 8 and 16. This suggests an exponential function. (Of course, both answers are correct. This is a test of thinking style, not math skills.) ”  [It’s probably more a test of how much experience the reader has with computers. -LW]

“Look at it this way: If the series of numbers in the quiz mentioned earlier is linear and progresses for 100 steps, the final entry is 200. But if progress is exponential, then the final entry is 1,267,650,600,228,229,400,000,000,000,000. Computers will soon be smarter than humans.”

Based on that mistake, maybe not.  He probably calculated this in some calculator program, which gave him a result in scientific notation.  Instead of just saying “…is approximately 1.26*10^(whatever),” he decided to write that the entry is that number.  This number is clearly divisible by 10, and no power of two is divisible by 10.  Of course, his computer did *exactly what he told it too*, and nothing more. It wasn’t smart enough to realize “Oh, I’m being asked this so that my owner will have a lengthy number to write down verbatim to prove a rhetorical point.  I surmise that he wants this number in arbitrary precision rather than the customary approximation I would normally give his feeble human mind.”

According to my Python interpreter, the correct answer is exactly:

Wait, “L” isn’t a number.  Oh well, I guess the computer knows what it’s doing…  (L stands for “long”, the data type Python uses to handle integers that are longer than a certain number of bits.)

I swear, every article written about Ray Kurzweil pisses me off.  The blog that linked to it had this quote:

“Many computer scientists take it on faith that one day machines will become conscious. Led by futurist Ray Kurzweil, proponents of the so-called strong-AI school believe that a sufficient number of digitally simulated neurons, running at a high enough speed, can awaken into awareness. Once computing speed reaches 10^16 operations per second — roughly by 2020 — the trick will be simply to come up with an algorithm for the mind.”

The blogger commented: “Which is a bit like saying “once we have the technology to travel to another galaxy, all we have to do is get there”.”  Not the best analogy, since it makes it sound like computers are like the technology to travel to another galaxy.  I would say that this is more like saying “Once we can make enough aluminum to build a rocket, we can go to the moon.”
- Lucas