Sunday, December 17, 2006

Everyone: Everyone (Else) is an Idiot

New York Times columnist and tech book author David Pogue muses on the utter lack of "netiquette" in his blog. He calls out sites like Slashdot and digg, wherein the comments on each post quickly devolve into an uber-juvenile festival of petty pre-K sandbox-esque name calling and finger pointing.

One of trends that I have observed is the tendency to find assertions that ignorance on the part of a [ahem] "fellow member of the community" is directly attributable to one of the following: idiocy, stupidity, apparent mental retardation, poor breeding, or a (clearly) incorrect system of beliefs. These poor, disrespectful, divinely-entitled, internet-flame-trolling dolts are clearly superior to the other disrespectful, divinely-entitled, internet-flame-trolling dolts whose bait they accept so readily and whose posts they attempt to ridicule in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable.

The most disheartening revelation regarding this behavior is tied to the demographics of these groups. The median age of these posters is generally well beyond the lawful drinking age, not merely the voting age or the driving age. You may be tempted to ask "Why is that disheartening?" Simply stated, it means that the posters of such well-reasoned, respectful, and meaningful comments as "wut a 'tard prolly cudn't evn git it if it wuz tattood on his mamas arse that he oviusly came outta. and dont even try to tell me my grammer sux cuz i lernt it from yer mom so yer jus dissin dat skank"* are participating in the real world. Common activities (and rationalizations for each) of these posters include the following:

  • routinely cutting off other drivers
    • other drivers are clearly idiots for lawfully being on the part of the roadway where the posters suddenly decided they deserved to be
    • only a truly mentally deficient driver needs do things like look in a mirror or use a signal, posters are entitled and invincible
  • failing to vote, but complaining about the outcome to everyone
    • already posted "meaningful debate" about each topic and candidate
    • why vote: everyone in the race (and everyone who votes) is a total loser
    • only the opinion of the poster matters, everybody else is an irrelevant jackass

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Another "Quote of the [Arbitrary Time Period]"

Seagate CEO Bill Watkins, in this CNN/Money interview, stated:
"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn."
Makes you want to run out and buy a new hard drive, eh?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Google Broke the Hike and Bike Trail!

There's a Google satellite image tiling glitch on Austin's Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail. Either that, or the Balcones Fault is way more active that we thought...

Well, we got newer, higher-res images, and this problem no longer exists...  C'est la vie.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Round-Trip Translation Hilarity Engine

The "Lost in Translation" site is a great way to make fun of machine translation. For example, consider the following:
Original Text: "Now is the time for the small, furry animals to unite and rise up in unison against the oppressive reign of mankind."

Super-crazy Result: "
Hour the hour stops of the small one, with the skin of the animals it is due to moor and GONE until the expensive outpost in the agreement to satisfy to press of the rule of the humanity."

The Path: English > French > English > German > English > Italian > English > Portuguese > English > Spanish > English

Google Maps API Update

Well, I got bitten by the Google Maps API update that happened on Wednesday. The code for my Photo Gallery Map used several conventions that were rendered obsolete. So, I employed my not-so-mad programming skills, looked at the API Reference, and managed to "H4X0R" my map back into operational status.

The good news -- it works again, and I'll be OK until API version 2 is made obsolete at some undisclosed future date. The other good news, there was an upgrade cheat-sheet that made my life easier.

What did I have to change in my simple page code:
In addition to the trivial required change from GMap to GMap2, GPoint now refers to a location on the bitmap, and not a geographical location. I was using it "the old way." A new GLatLng class was introduced to reference geographical points. This new version also swaps the position of the Latitude and Longitude data with respect to the old convention (Gee, imagine that Lat/Long specified in that order...). So, all references that used to look like this:
new GPoint(-115.173019, 36.095472)
now look like this, instead:
new GLatLng(36.095472,-115.173019)

Also, the zoom factor got reversed, so my old zoom factor of 13 is now a zoom factor of 4 to display the same view (it's more intuitive now, bigger number=more zoom).

Finally, the "Map Type" convention changed. What used to be _HYBRID_TYPE is now known as G_HYBRID_MAP... This was also made easier, as setCenterAndZoom and setMapType have been combined into a single setCenter operation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Red-Letter Day or Red Pill?

Today I received my new MacBookPro. It's the first Apple computer that I've owned since the ][e that my folks got for me "back in the day." It also means that I've added to my OS collection yet again; my current tally includes not only OS X and Windows, but also Solaris, OpenBSD, and Linux... I've only been using the system for a couple of hours, but I'm digging it so far... Of course, it's hard to argue with the horsepower that this baby has! I think my poor little Athlon XP (Barton) desktop is going to start feeling a bit lonely...

Friday, October 27, 2006

110 Years, Zero Lessons.

You may recall my earlier post regarding how the whole "marriage protection" movement was entirely too reminiscent of the blatant civil rights travesties that have left an indelible mark on the United States. Well, now New Jersey's Supreme Court has declared that participants in same-sex unions are entitled to the same rights as "married folk." It has been widely reported that this decision allows the state legislature to decide whether to declare same-sex unions as a type of marriage, or whether to establish some sort of separate-but-equal categorization. Unfortunately, the justices failed to pay any attention to the events that transpired after the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision (ah, that's where that "110 years" reference comes from); they certainly failed to read the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision [*]. Cleary, these justices are unaware of the inequities and iniquities that continue to this day. Nice to know that my little illustration continues to "hold water."

* (I have chosen to redact liberally to strip out the direct race and education references in my quotes below; look here for the un-cut text of the Brown decision):

In Sweatt v. Painter, ..., this Court relied in large part on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement ..."

...To separate them ... generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.

...The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating ... is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the [minority] group.

...Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.

We conclude that, ..., the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate ... facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Airport Security

Schneier on Security presents this post regarding a "boarding pass" generator. Some of the comments are quite entertaining...

I had previously realized just how silly the whole "boarding pass as authentication token" thing was the last time I was getting ready to fly home. You see, I used my SSH/proxy connection to log on over the hotel's wireless and then printed my boarding pass to a PDF file, which I then carried down to the hotel's business center on my spiffy SD/USB card and transferred onto actual paper. I realized that since I have a (rather dated) full copy of Acrobat, I could easily modify the contents of the PDF and create variations of the boarding pass. The security screeners don't have bar code readers, so the codified information doesn't even need to be correct (until you actually want to step onto an airplane).

Update 1: The man has yet again demonstrated that ignorance is the preferred state for all of us citizens. That's right, the student that posted the code had the "opportunity" to visit with the nice people from the FBI. Apparently, the agency can actually live up to their moniker and act Frequently Bungling and Inept.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Got Style?

No? The Strange Banana Style Generator can help (so long as the style you seek is of the CSS variety).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

White and Nerdy

Weird Al is at it again, with the Straight Outta Lynwood Album's lead track, White and Nerdy. I was already experiencing episodes where the original Ridin' (by Chamillionaire) would get stuck in my head from time to time. Now, it's just that much worse...

Chris Pirillo's Post (w/ YouTube video of the music video for White and Nerdy)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Built-in Bike Rack -- Cool

This is a pretty cool concept: a built-in bike rack that Opel is incorporating into some of their European models.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yet another Sudoku article

From ABC Australia: Why Sudoku makes your brain ache

Obscenely Huge Zoom Lens

Zeiss custom monster zoom: 1700mm focal length at f/4 with a coverage area designed for a Hasselblad 203FE 6x6 inch medium format camera. They don't specify whether or not the customer is also using one of the Hasselblad 39 megapixel digital backs on said camera (the older 22 megapixel backs retail for $25k, the cameras go for about $4-5k on the used market -- no FE-series lens included)...

Other useful stats: It's 5.5 feet long, and weighs over 560 pounds. Want one? Better win the lotto first...

Bicycle Helmets Make Car Drivers Care Less

Want to increase your odds of getting hit while riding your bike? According to this UK study, you should wear a helmet and ride on roads frequented by busses and delivery trucks. This combination should help ensure that you are given a minimal amount of space in which to ride safely. No wonder advocacy groups oppose adult helmet laws...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Odd Bikes or Cool Tech?

Judge for yourself:

The Universal Swiss Army Knife

With 85 different "blades", many of which are multi-function, it does EVERYTHING! (PopSci Story)

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it on the Wenger North America site, nor on the Swiss site. Not quite crazy enough to call the 800 number from the article, though...

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Twin Terrors

To help feed the mounting pile of FUD surrounding the "new danger" of liquid explosives, we have a sensational(ized) story to share:

This morning, the news wires were abuzz with reports of the evacuation of a small airport because "two bottles of liquid found in a woman's carry-on luggage twice tested positive for explosives residue
..." The more responsible reports indicated that these positive tests were not really probative, and that several standard household items could fail these tests. Other sources, however, seized on the opportunity to invoke fear. Citing that the woman in question was a "28-year-old Pakistani woman in traditional Islamic dress" and had purchased a one-way fare, we were clearly all supposed to leap to the conclusion that she had been handed a tube of facial cleansing gel and a bottle of some other liquid (which, undoubtedly, was the necessary complementary reagent to said gel -- resulting in the formation of a deadly and devious binary compound of mass destruction) by the vast hoardes of Al-Qaeda operatives in the Tora Bora region. (I'm not completely convinced that the timing of the Seattle Port 18 cargo container bomb scare -- also citing Pakistani origins -- didn't influence these reports.) Apparently, both the TSA tests and a bomb-sniffing dog had both alerted upon the deadly Neutrogena-like substance (save us all if it happened to have those little exfoliating grains in it, I'm sure they make fantastic oxidizers). Later in the day, it was revealed that further investigation into each of these incidents resulted in the distinct lack of any actual explosives. Props to the Times of London for at least bothering to eventually get their facts right, so many of these stories go un-updated...

Quick! Somebody remind the popular media: Pakistan has "the bomb" (Say it with me, my fellow Americans: "new-cue-lur").

For other related readings: check out the gel bra ban and tales of inconsistent screening practices. (Or, just laugh along with this Register story, instead.) Time to buy stock in Colgate, P&G, Loreal, and other makers of fine toiletries and cosmetics. I figure if there are enough people like me who abhor checking luggage, then the worldwide demand for tiny toiletries is going to skyrocket. Mini-deodorant, mini-toothpaste, mini-cosmetics, and other mini-niceties and mini-necessities are going to be the rage! I'm considering submitting a patent tomorrow for a passenger airliner with enhanced onboard security apparatus; the embodiment: no overhead luggage compartments! While we're at it, we had better eliminate those switched overhead lights, and the "call steward/ess" button -- those could both provide potentially-lethal power sources, just like your wrist watch and cell phone batteries (especially considering their relative proximity to the emergency oxygen supply)...

The Gran Turismo 4 Virtual Prius Battery-Drain Challenge

Early this week, I was showing my vast collection of GT4 virtual cars to a friend. For some reason, I remembered that the Prius included a wild and wacky engine/battery flow diagram (3rd-party screenshot) that is based on the actual 2nd-generation car. At the time, I was lapping Tsukuba and we watched the batteries drain as I drove (using the standard controller), with its characteristic non-conservative near-digital accelerator modulation. That evening, there were better things to do than stare at a virtual battery guage -- but the seed was planted.

So, I repeated the experiment, but this time on the Circuit de Sarthe II (the old LeMans course, without the chicanes, for even more flat-out acceleration time, and a couple fewer brake/recharge zones). The results were indeed entertaining:
  • First lap: thanks to a couple of brief off-track excursions, this lap took just over 6 minutes, and depleted about 75% of the battery.
  • Second lap: the battery lasted long enough to get me up up to speed on the Mulsanne straight, just as the virtual charge management software swiched to "oh crap, I need to charge the battery some" mode. Because of improved familiarity with the track and the car, despite the diminished acceleration on the latter part of the course, I managed to shave nearly a second off of the fairly pathetic first lap.
  • Third lap: the virtual charge management software refused to let the last bar from the battery go away; complete discharge is apparently not possible -- at least not in a GT4 virtual Prius. Because the battery was not being used to power the motor during hard acceleration, only the gasoline engine was available for almost this entire lap. By the time I hit the straightaway, I had already lost almost 15 seconds, and I finished the lap a full 45 seconds behind the second lap, despite improving my driving lines and braking timing yet again...
Based on this very spurious method of testing, one can only conclude that the combination of endurance racing and ridiculously agressive throttle modulation make for a fantastically bad mix in terms of the classic vehicular dynamics of a Prius.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Le Tour: dans trois dimensions courtoisie de Google

This is just plain cool, especially if you're an increasingly dedicated cyclist with a growing penchant for Geo-stuff... (I don't know anybody like that, personally.)

Ever wondered just how evil L'Alpe d'Huez really is? Well, Le Tour de France has a stage-by-stage KML file that you can download and examine in Google Earth. (Note: Macs and Linux boxen are no longer excuses for not having Google Earth.) This is a really good showcase for just what can be done, too -- they've incorporated all sorts of information, including the elevation profiles (with intermediate sprints and categorized climbs called out) and hyperlinks to some of the spots along the route. For lazy-heads, here's a shrunken screenshot of the route up L'Alpe d'Huez:

I suspect it won't be too long before we see real-time telemetry that allows you to follow your favorite riders along the course. Heck, there are probably quite a few folks that would pay for that...

Cool Device

Looks like a useful contraption for bailing-out of various random computer-related problems, and a good way to recycle all of those old HDDs that are gathering dust.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Minnesota Trip: Picture Gallery

Select photos from this trip have been posted here.

Location: Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior, with a side trip to the International Wolf Center to avoid the rain.

I'll add a link for this gallery to my map soon.

Friday, June 30, 2006

What's Old is New Again...

I just put OpenBSD 3.9 on my old notebook, and am having fun running FVWM for the first time since about 1995 or so... This same system ran quasi-terribly with SuSE 9.x and kubuntu -- it just didn't have the horsepower to drive KDE. Turns out that without the overhead of a "modern desktop environment," (for the record Gnome sucked on it too -- via FC4 and ubuntu) the performance of my old P-III/850 is perfectly acceptable. My video and audio drivers are both fully supported, and my good-old PRISM3-based USB wi-fi adapter even looks like it will "just work" on non-WPA networks.

In other news, I added a Java SSH client to my site, so any browser with Java will now allow me to make my connections to various hosts throughout the galaxy. Public terminals are suddenly useful to me...

Monday, June 05, 2006

All Other Persons, Revisited

As the hype machine gears up in support of the proposed (un-)Constitutional Amendment to "protect marriage" in advance of the looming mid-term election, it is time to dust off and share my old satirical image. This illustration is in the same vein as my previous post from when Texas passed its amendment, but it may hit a little closer to the mark...

Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution based population and therefore representation on a number of factors, including a counting of free persons, and "three fifths of all other persons." Secton 2 of the fourteenth amendment changed this definition (although women still couldn't vote, nor could anyone under the age of 21, nor could -- in most jusisdictions, due to poll taxes -- the poor). Since a marriage contract is a legal document issued by a state or municipality, there is no reason for this issue to be addressed at the federal level. Period. The End.

So without further ado, the satirical illustration is here. The terms are the same as with the other illustration -- use it as you wish, but please host it on your own site if you choose to use it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

10,000 Things You May Not Care About

Found this list of "what's so special about this number?" when I stumbled upon

For all you DaVinci Code conspiracy theorists, a brief list of forty "Fibbonacci index: value" pairs are displayed below:
1: 1, 2: 1, 3: 2, 4: 3, 5: 5,
6: 8, 7: 13, 8: 21, 9: 34, 10: 55,
11: 89, 12: 144, 13: 233, 14: 377, 15: 610,
16: 987, 17: 1597, 18: 2584, 19: 4181, 20: 6765,
21: 10946, 22: 17711, 23: 28657, 24: 46368, 25: 75025,
26: 121393, 27: 196418, 28: 317811, 29: 514229, 30: 832040
31: 1346269, 32: 2178309, 33: 3524578, 34: 5702887, 35: 9227465
36: 14930352, 37: 24157817, 38: 39088169, 39: 63245986, 40: 102334155

"Fun" Fibbonacci tidbits observed in these first forty iterations:
  • number of instances where index=value [2: 1 and 5]
  • number of instances where index^2=value [2: 1 and 12]
  • order of magnitude indices [1, 7, 12, 17, 21, 26, 31, 36, 40, ...]
  • indicies for which value/index is a whole number [1, 5, 12, 24, 25, 36, ...]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Monkey Love?

Today's widespread science news concerns a hypothesis that humans and chimpanzees not only share a common ancestor, but may have an overlapping history that involves a long period of "hybridization" prior to the evolutionary paths that lead to the current disparate species. The skeptical quote from the Harvard biological anthropologist, who is not associated with the study, is absolutely priceless:
"My problem is imagining what it would be like to have a bipedal hominid and a chimpanzee viewing each other as appropriate mates — not to put it too crudely."
(Although priceless, the sentiment in the quote is not really informative. For example, when dealing with genetic precursors to both species, can bipedalism be assumed to be a valid trait? Is it safe to assume that one of the hypothesized sub-species had a more pronounced posterior than the other? He could just as easily tried to imagine that a "medicinal herb" was used as some sort of proto-date-rape drug -- not to put it too crudely...)

Also from the "Monkey Love" department is an older article about Harry Harlow and his experiments with Rhesus monkeys. These experiments demonstrated that touch and physical intimacy are more important to a developing infant that mere nourishment. I, for one, wonder how the subject of an ongoing attempt by an MIT Media Lab professor to catalog the development of speech in his infant son (by building a giant electronic archive of almost every waking moment of his pre-verbal life) would feel about this. And we wonder why the former chief of the Media Lab is off advocating wind-up laptops...

*: Yes, I know that chimps are properly apes, and not monkeys. However, "ape love" just doesn't sound funny, does it?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Poignant Lessons

The framers of the principles of governance that ruled the United States before "the world changed" (*) would be very disappointed in the way that the current citizenry accepts trespasses upon their rights in the name of security. When "No Such Agency" is listening in on certain phone calls and tracking almost all of them, what has occurred is nothing more than an erosion of the right of the people to speak freely. Recent examples show that your government has databases that expose who you're talking to, what you're searching for online, and what books you are borrowing from the library. You are expected, however, to entrust them to use this information responsibly -- despite the fact that they won't tell you how they are actaully using it. "Because I said so," may occasionally be a valid response from parent to child, but it is never a valid response from government to a free people.

In the modern age, the fundamental rights of association, belief, and assembly -- whether stated explicitly or rendered implicit in the first, fifth, and fourteenth amendments -- must be understood to embody our new forms of communication. If we choose to assemble or speak via the internet or the telephone, these technologies serve simply as an enabler of speech. When choosing to take advantage of the tools of modern society to express our opinions and beliefs, we should feel neither more opressed nor less free than if we chose to assemble in the presence of the monuments to Lincoln and Washington and to profess our dissatisfaction "the old fashioned way."

However, we must clearly understanding that expressing an opinion via these tools is at once trivially easy and profoundly impotent. Merely expressing a belief in no way should be seen to constitute taking action to uphold or defend that belief. This is one of the principal failings of the citizenry today; we are collectively willing to complain, but reticent to act. I urge you to follow the advice of the framers; take a stand against those policies of, and individuals in, your government that are failing to defend your rights, your freedoms, and your beliefs. Never be afraid to stand against your government, and always question acts of your government which serve to stand against your constitutionally-defined rights or freedoms.

Benjamin Franklin:

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

Thomas Jefferson:
"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
"Though [the people] may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand."
"Lethargy [is] the forerunner of death to the public liberty."
"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority."
"[The] liberty of speaking and writing... guards our other liberties."
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
"Were we to give up half our territory rather than engage in a just war to preserve it, we should not keep the other half long." [Note: Substitute "liberty" for "territory," and the sentiment remains the same...]

(*): The world didn't change on September 11, 2001. The world has always been a place where the irrational actions of the few can have a dramatic impact on the many; a place where misguided beliefs lead to conflict, strife, war, and death. History clearly demonstrates that as a species, we are somehow unable to "just get along." Too many individuals blind their rationality and follow leaders that act in ways that are detrimental to mankind. Human history is filled with such leaders, who have emerged from all sources of human power and influence, including: military, political, religious, industrial, and financial.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

RFID Ignition For Thieves

Turns out that most of the keyless ignition systems (often found in high-dollar cars, such as Mercedes-Benz [Keyless Go] and Lexus [SmartAccess]) use a really basic 40-bit encryption key(*). This means they can generally be hacked in minutes or less by a modern laptop and a motivated individual with an RFID reader. A little bit of knowledge of a car's particular system, and the ability to come into close-enough proximity with the "key fob" without being detected, can make the hack even easier. So -- do you trust Mercedes' statement in the Edmunds article that "It's nearly impossible to unlock the steering column or start the engine without the owner's remote unit," or do you believe that it's a little too easy to clone said remote unit...

*: A 40-bit key is equivalent to the original WEP standard for Wi-Fi, and we have countless examples of how lazy implementation of code rolling made that easily hackable...

Random Things

Neon Genesis: Evangelion article -- links to brief episode synopses, too

The FreeSound Project -- a Creative Commons library with plenty of noise(s), and some signal

An Aussie tax break the "W" regime would not approve of -- hint: business expenses for "oldest profession"

Florida high schools to require "majors" -- makes me glad I graduated so long ago

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Word of the [Arbitrary Time Period]

(derivation: Greek, καθολικόν - "katholikon")
[see also: catholic(2) and it's treatment of the Greek καθολικός - "katholikos"]

Traffic Suck? It's Your Fault!

Live Science's Mystery Monday column gives a cursory explanation of why your greedy attitude and sloth-like reflexes are the root cause of traffic jams. The same site also has an article that cites research which demonstrates that high speed limits don't hike the death toll.

If cruising highways is too "blasé" for you, then turn to PopSci. They can show you how to play pedestrian pinball with your Jaguar (arguably, this technology would take the fun out of Carmageddon), or can get you in a Star Trek mood with their Warp Drive overview.

Hmmm, I seem to have combined a Star Trek reference, a reference to a virtual automotive anger outlet, and talk about traffic into the same post. Somewhere deep in the subconscious, this must mean that I'm still baffled by my two pet-peeves of long-distance driving, which I have named Klingons and
  • In this context, a Klingon is defined as a driver who has absolutely no idea how fast they want to go. As they approach from behind at great speed, Klingons will latch onto the rear bumper of any vehicle and remain there until either A.) another vehicle passes at a higher velocity (and is latched onto) or B.) the driver of the latched-onto vehicle confuses the Klingon into acquiring a new target. Anecdotally, it would appear that Klingons are genetically predisposed to automotive myopia; they are uncapable of focusing on any object more distant than the nearest bumper. Further research may be required, but I would advocate mandatory installation of "corrective" windshields which (when activated at highway speeds) make objects appear much closer than they are.
  • An L.L.P. is a left-lane parker. These pathetic creatures feel entitled to cruise at whatever darn speed they desire -- in the left lane. If they were consistently among the fastest travellers on the road, that would be one thing. L.L.P.'s have been routinely observed to ignore signs that clearly state "left lane for passing only," and generally move slower than the previaling flow of traffic, while simultaneously tending to position their vehicle in the most disruptive of possible physical locations with respect to the flow of surrounding traffic. Often, the L.L.P. is suffering from an acute and chronic case of rectal-cranial proximity dysfunction (RCPD). One notable sign of RCPD is constantly variable velocity that can appear chaotic and non-linear from a reference frame outside of their vehicle. (This, and other symptoms -- you'll know them when you see them -- are greatly exacerbated by the presence of a cell phone). The cure for L.L.P.'s is more complicated. First, they should have a protective Faraday cage installed in their vehicle (eliminating the utility of the cell phone). If this is not an adequate cure, then some more radical intervention may be required...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

SketchUp in 3-D

Google is at it again... Now they've released a free "lite" version of the recently-acquired SketchUp 3-D modeling program, and have integrated it with Google Earth. I haven't tried to do anything fancy, but I messed around for about an hour (including downloading, learning tools, etc.), and came up with this little scene. Some of the sample models (which can be dropped into their correct locales) are pretty detailed. I don't have those kind of skills, but the super-simple interface makes it both accessible and fun to play with.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nothing to do?

Try these (some are oldies, but goodies):
Special disclaimer: If you get fired or lose sleep, it's not my fault!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Revenge of the <Blink>

From the "who gives a damn which department it's from" department:

Quite possibly the best html insider joke of all time. And it requires substantially more coding skill than the interactive Aggie joke, too...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Camera Fun

From the "Had to play with the new toy" department:

I wanted to test the noise levels of the camera, and also wanted to play with the continuous shooting mode. Luckily, we had a storm come through this evening. So, I stood in the garage and shot toward the corner streetlight. A couple of lightning strikes provided occasional illumination in the clouds, and a car turning onto the street provided an interesting opportunity to examine the camera's reaction to changing light conditions.

The results of this experiment are cataloged in the following movie, wherein each frame (shot @ 5 fps) is displayed for 1/2 second to slow down time and extend the sequence...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Stop Saving Your Pennies and Start Rockin'

From the "empty the ashtray and start flipping the sofa cushions" department:

So, what Apple news -- you ask -- could possibly trump "Boot Camp;" which had previously trumped the hack-tastic method of running XP on an Intel-powered Mac and raised it a video driver?

How about turning your jug-o'-change into a handful of songs straight from iTunes? Coinstar, those fine folks who would charge you 8.9% to flip your pint of Lincoln-heads into a receipt that you could redeem for $7.22 at the register, now offers the ability to waive the 8.9% fee and apply your entire seven hundred ninety two pennies to an iTunes music card.

But, what if iTunes taxation (without representation) renders your $7.92 good for fewer than seven songs, and makes you want to fling some crates o' Lipton into Boston Harbor? Well, you could opt to apply your $7.92 to a venti double-shot non-fat mocha (hold the whip) instead, by opting for the Starbucks card. Or, you could almost get a nice paperback from Amazon or Borders; or even a down-payment on some "software" from Linens 'n' Things or Pier 1.

Geek Squad Services Systems, Supposedly Swipes Software

From the "most gratuitous use of alliteration in a post title" department:

Best Buy's "Geek Squad" has been accused of donning ye olde eyepatch. Winternals, makers of some darn fine software tools, has had their request granted for a temporary restraining order (TRO) which requires that Best Buy Co. and its subsidiary, Geek Squad, immediately stop using and pirating unlicensed versions of Winternals' copyrighted software. I suggest that the following logo be embroidered upon said eyepatch:

More details...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Letter of the Law? Intent of the Law?

From the "I'ze ain't bein' punk in drublic!" department:

Reuters picked up the story wherein the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has admitted that law enforcement agents are going into bars, and arresting patrons for public intoxication. I haven't read the entire Texas P.I. statute recently (snippet courtesy of the Aggies), but it's hard to imagine that the phrase "in a public place" was intended to apply inside of privately-owned businesses. Another key question, what is the burden of proof for establishing that "the person may endanger the person or another?" In the mean time, drink at home (just don't serve anybody else), and watch the NBC news coverage from the Dallas/Irving area.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Regarding Spirituality and Etymology

The noun form "spirituality" is used to denote the state of being spiritual. The word Spiritual is clearly the adjective form of spirit. Etymology freaks oft enjoy espousing the fact that the word spirit joined the English language via the Old French espirit (modern French substitutes "esprit"), which was harvested from Latin's spiritus. They will then extemporize a rapid explanation that spiritus is derived from spirare, which is generally agreed to mean "to breathe" or "to blow."

Amateur etymologists with an agenda will quickly cite other spirare derivatives; respirare (which begat the English respiration) and comspirare (which gave us conspire, conspiracy, etc.) are the favorite choices when the intent is to undermine the mystical and religious connotations of the word spiritual. Those who seek a broader idea of the varied meanings that can be derived from spirare may well consider the source of their inspiration and examine their aspirations carefully.

Based on the varied uses, it appears that the concept and connotation behind spirare was never limited to the physical and material "breath." Yes, there are lesser-used invocations of inspiration and aspiration that simply denote the processes referred to in the opening lyrics to Machine Head (by Bush). Their prevalent modern usage, however, connotes mental states that are rather incorporeal in nature. If that alone doesn't bake your noodle, consider the relative interchangability of "spirit" and "soul" in the King James translation of the bible. This can of worms can lead pretty deep into the etymological gene pool, so I'll summarize quickly (and leave the Hebrew ruah out of the discussion completely):
  • Latin: animare - to give life to; anima - soul or breath; animus - spirit
  • Greek: anemos - wind; pneuma - spirit, wind or breath; psykhe - soul, self, mind
This leads directly into a key discussion that spans a broad tapestry of philosophy and religion: namely, how are the body, mind, soul, and spirit related. We have not arrived at the one true answer to this quandry in millennia of human history, and neither a solution nor absolution are available in this post.

So, you may ask, "What is the point of this post?" That answer is simple. Regardless of your system of values, your background, your socialization, and your chosen religion, there is likely to be something that inspires you and invokes a sense of awe and wonder. The source of your spirituality may prove to be either ecclesiastical or secular in nature. The disparate origins may be either material or immaterial to your belief system. The common admonition of religion and psychology is to find the aforementioned thing and embrace it; breathe it in; let it give life to you and lift your spirits. Irrespective and regardless of the source, you can safely defend your personal spirituality through the magic of etymology...

*: Give yourself two extra bonus karma cookies (TM) if you have discovered the remaining obvious spirare derivative that has not yet appeared in this post...[answer]

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lord of the Folded Paper

Leave it to the MIT student body to figure out how to turn some black paper into a pretty decent rendition of a member of the Nazgul. The bugs are pretty cool, too.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Analog Restrictions Management?

Although this post is on the Sci-Fi Channel's tech blog, there is unfortunately no fiction to it. Now, it seems that all of the DRM schemes in the universe aren't good enough for big media. So, to supplement their evil ways, all consumer Blu-ray and HD DVD players are going to output at 960 x 540 on their analog component video outputs, and will only output the full 1920 x 1080 on their (encrypted, restricted, managed) digital outputs. So, people like me who jumped on the Hi-Def bandwagon early, and therefore don't have digital inputs on their TVs, are - in a word - screwed.

I don't see why the quality of media should be a determinant factor in assessing what constitutes fair use. Although the 25% output is better than my current DVDs, it's not really better enough for me to pay a premium. This provides a shining example of why becoming an early adopter of any consumer technology has become a really bad idea (TM). Instead of falling for the trap, I will wait for the confluence of a few events -- A.) The death of my current TV, B.) The commoditization of the new hardware and ridiculous price-drop associated therewith, and C.) The general availability of methods that enable restoration of rights and allow use of the media in ways that were historically deemed to be permissible (regardless of resolution).

The technology companies don't drive the technology anymore -- the media companies are in complete control, and the "features" are driven by these third-party producers instead of the consumers / end-users. The media companies' brillance is to casually expect me to only be able to see 25% of what I pay for, and be happy about it. So, why don't the technology companies care? Easy, they get to sell a new TV to everybody, not just the folks who don't already have Hi-Def.

Note to the media companies: Keep it up; you're doing a great job alienating all of your potential customers by preemptively accusing them of theft whilst simultaneously probing their collective orifices with large, barbed, red-hot pokers. Perhaps if you would invest an equal amount of money and time to generate truly compelling products, people would feel more inclined to purchase said products.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Language Lament

In this article, Wired's "The Luddite" column takes yet another look at the impact of the IM, e-mail, and blog phenomena on the English language. It links to the broadly-traveled recent revelation that people can't properly discern the intended tone of an e-mail, even though they think that they can.

I hail from the school that separates "formal language" from "informal language," and as a result tend to produce a broad range of linguistic output in the course of my daily life. This blog, for instance, is written in an informal and conversational style that would not necessarily be appropriate in the technical documentation that I formerly wrote (Or any "professional" communication, for that matter. e.g. Corporate e-mail). Further, there is a notable difference between my speech during an evening with friends and during a presentation or interview. In most situations, I choose to maintain mostly-proper grammar and syntax. I can attribute this behavior to the following facts: I'm a reasonably proficient typist, and I actually learned the rules in the first place. That doesn't mean that I don't bend to the subculture, convenience, temporal economy, and even anti-establishmentarian aspects of "IM speak" in my actual instant messages...

In other news, it appears we don't need an excuse to surf the 'net anymore, we can do it "just 'cuz."

Implants for Your Significant Other?

From the was that "commitment" or "should be committed" department:

No, I'm not talking about silicone or saline implants (or any other form of "enhancement"), just RFID chips. That's right, if these crazy Canadians are to be trusted, the keys to one's heart and home can now be replaced by a tiny implantable RFID tag. Needless to say, there are some serious privacy issues associated with this type of implantable tag.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Table-top Neutron Generator

See the press release from RPI related to the paper that verifies, and -- in the humble opinion of the Institute -- "significantly enhances" the crystal-based table-top fusion experiment from UCLA (neutron generation is seen as evidence that fusion occurred). Check out the bold part of the quote below -- it kinda makes you smile, or just want to run an experiment with a bazillion crystals.
A research team led by Seth Putterman, professor of physics at UCLA, reported on a similar apparatus in 2005, but two important features distinguish the new device: “Our device uses two crystals instead of one, which doubles the acceleration potential,” says Jeffrey Geuther, a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Rensselaer and lead author of the paper. “And our setup does not require cooling the crystals to cryogenic temperatures — an important step that reduces both the complexity and the cost of the equipment.”

Debate rages regarding whether 1980's "cold fusion" afficionados can safely resurrect their old baseball caps and coffee mugs. However, the UCLA and RPI techniques are not -- I repeat, not -- useful for power generation. Basically, fusion is easy; "getting out more energy than you put in," however, continues to make the old hype remain a pipe dream.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Feeding Time for Two Pointless Obsessions

I stumbled across another sudoku article focused on logic and computation. I also managed to ensure that I won't have to buy another book of these crack-esque puzzles in the foreseeable future. (Aside: It's "Book 1," so of course the puzzles are "All New," at least to this publisher...) "How did a certified addict manage to cut off a supply?" you ask. Simple, actually - I found a better dealer. Books don't keep record times for you, always start off with puzzles that are entirely too easy for anyone that has any sudoku experience, and -- horror! -- require carrying a pencil. Besides, I needed another justification for the existence of my Pocket PC.

Here's some coverage of not-quite-as-alternative bicycle designs that place the cranks further forward than on a traditional bike, but maintain a layout that is somewhat more in line with the traditional designs than that of full-blown recumbents. If they can achieve price parity with the higher-volume traditional bikes, these designs could actually start to sell. One of these years, I may deliver a dissertation on bicycle frame geometry and its effects on the stability, handling characteristics, and comfort. Of course, that would require more research -- so don't hold your breath.

Randy Advice from the British NHS

The British National Health service has some free advice on their web page for all of their citizenry. (Note to the repressed or too-easily-offended: "move along, nothing to see here...")

Anyhow, get a leg up on the competition with these handy tips and exercise suggestions, straight from the NHS (via google cache, due to the ominous footer on the posts themselves). Something tells me that this wouldn't go over too well with the Bush administration... Oh, and by the way, Fourteen February has different significance in the UK, too -- at least this year. Cupid would be proud.

Cool Optics | Search

There are recent stories about Nike's contact lenses and PixelOptics' eyeglasses that are both interesting, but take different approaches to vision enhancement. Maybe one day we can all qualify to be pilots.

On the search engine subpoena front, Lore Sjöberg at Wired has some tongue-in-cheek advice on how to justify the "real motivation" behind some of your questionable searches. Personally, I just use the "I was making sure nobody had my band name / album title" defense -- it works in fairly broad circumstances -- e.g. the chart-topping hit
Felinephilia by The Uranium Enrichment Process.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Where Were Those Pictures Taken?

So, I got a shiny new personal Google Maps API key and am starting to mess around with it, showing the knowledge gained from my first lesson. It provides location markers that pop up links to the corresponding photo galleries. This is not a full-blown geocoding extravaganza; it is meant to give some overall context to where each set of pictures were taken, not a precise location for any particular image...

Maybe I'll go nuts and do that for some future trip, I cant' really say. There are some pretty cool applications that make it easier, and I do have a GPS receiver now. I also have a handy-dandy cheat-sheet that provides a few plausible starting points for the non-code-writers, like me.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Intel Macintosh Fanfare and FUD

First, the challenge gets a nominal financial incentive: Make Windows XP and OS X dual-boot on an Intel-based Mac. Why, to win fame across the whole internet, and get some cash, to boot (ba-dum-dun)... The contest site unfortunately links to the completely uninformed Nakfull Propoganda blog posting, wherein the author thought he had accomplished something profound but hadn't really done much of diddly-squat (unless telling the EFI bootloader to load the vanilla sample EFI applications that Intel makes available -- instead of the actual OS kernel bootstrapping routine -- is somehow useful). At least NetCraft lends credence to the "powered by OS X" logos that are prominently displayed on the blog site. The only good content on this page is all from the guy that writes the Apple Intel FAQ, who is WAAAAAAAAAYYY more patient with the ignorati than I.

Second, the FUD-mongering: This eWeek article is so chock full of FUD, it makes a cynic smile...
"Attackers have been focused on the [Intel] x86 for over a decade. Macintosh will have a lot more exposure than when it was on PowerPC," said Oliver Friedrichs, a senior manager at Symantec Corp. Security Response... There are many more malicious hackers who understand the x86 architecture in-depth... And attackers have access to hundreds of documents and examples of how to exploit common vulnerabilities on x86, whereas exploits for PowerPC are far fewer, Friedrichs said.
Norton Antivirus for Macintosh version 10.1 (*NEW* *IMPROVED* *Now with Intel-based Mac support*) was released on 25 Jan 2006. The eWeek article with the above choice quotes was published on 26 Jan 2006. Coincidence? Or, should the first page of the article simply state the following: Symantec manager believes that he can increase revenue by scaring folks into NAV/Mac software licenses and subscriptions with every new Intel-based iMac or MacBookPro that is sold. The article tries to recover and/or regain credibility by quoting a couple of "security researchers," including one that is critical of some OS X coding practices. I am not a virus writer (IANAVW?), but it seems to me that the underlying hardware architecture has almost diddly-squat to do with most of the types of exploits that are seen in the wild today. Heck, most of the payloads manipulate files in the file system -- not exactly the type of thing that requires digging out some rainbow-covered books on Intel processor/chipset internals or your trusty old-school 1980s Intel 8086 assembly programming manual. In fact, I'd bet that you probably don't even need to read this Cross Intel Architecture Development Tool write-up.

All your bike are belong to us

Read this Business Week article to learn about the UCI rules, and why the general "look and feel" of the common bicycle isn't likely to change any time soon. Economics are the primary justification for why recumbents, velomobiles, and other non-traditional HPVs aren't terribly likely to escape from niche status. The good news is that the component groups keep getting cheaper and better.

For an object lesson in supply-and-demand, note the huge disparities between the prices of road bikes and mountain bikes from your traditional vendors. The technology differences don't justify the prices, so don't even try to convince me that mid-range and high-end MTB parts are any heavier or perform any more poorly than their road counterparts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Intelligent Design" Dismissed by Vatican

Just about everybody picked up this story last week. An article by Fiorino Facchini, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bologna* was published in L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Vatican. The article supports Judge John E. Jones’ ruling in the Dover case (PDF), and states that intelligent design is not science. Although the article does not convey the official position of the Catholic Church, the Vatican newspaper does not print articles that contradict church positions. Here's a quote translated from the actual article:
“If the model presented by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another. But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science. It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious.”
*: For you non-Italians, the University is not affiliated with Oscar Mayer.

Now, imagine a collaborative project in Sandwich, IL between the University of Bologna and the University of Texas at Austin's Pickle Research Campus...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Three and a Half Trillion Sudoku Puzzles

C|Net has a nice column that points to this American Scientist article about the game of Sudoku. The article begins with a nice diatribe about the fact that mathematics is more than arithmetic, and continues on to expose (page 4) the following:

...9 x 9 Latin squares were not enumerated until 1975; the tally is 5,524,751,496,156,892,842,531,225,600... The order-3 Sudoku must be a subset of these squares. They were counted in June 2005... 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960...

{Skip Ahead a Bit, Brother}

When all these symmetries are taken into account, the number of essentially different Sudoku patterns is reduced substantially. In the case of the order-2 Sudoku, it turns out there are actually only two distinct grids! All the rest of the 288 patterns can all be generated from these two by applying various symmetry operations. In the order-3 case, the reduction is also dramatic, although it still leaves an impressive number of genuinely different solutions: 3,546,146,300,288...

Yellowstone Gallery - Updated

UPDATED: Starting using the Coppermine Photo Gallery -- it's a PHP/MySQL online photo gallery application. Anyhow, converting the Yellowstone Gallery to use this tool, and updating the URL to:

Monday, January 16, 2006

Lawsuit-resistant Table Saw for Schools

This one is actually kinda cool, or at least would be cool in a "cost is no object" world. The blogosphere is proud to bring you news of the SawStop, the world's first flesh-averse table saw. It is touted as being capable of saving your digits (or your weiner) by reacting to a change in conductivity in under 5 ms. Guess that makes it the first documented case of digit-all (go ahead, groan -- I know you want to) shop technology; donate one to your school now -- only $2799... Or, just get the Sears Craftsman Professional 10-inch table saw for $999.99, and use the remaining $1800 to cover your medical deductables and/or legal expenses.

Convergence for the sake of convergence?

From the probably-even-dumber-than-it-looks department comes this Sony mouse / VOIP flip-phone (JDM news courtesy of OhGizmo!). As a habitual headset user (a practice which allows me to continue the manipulation of my cursor via keyboard and/or mouse, despite using the phone or my IM's voice chat), I'm at a loss to understand the utility of this product. Although they do occur sometimes, the percentage of phone conversations that require my undivided attention is generally quite low. (I wish some of the oblivious automotive cell-squakers out there behaved as if they shared that sentiment.)

I think it would be really evil, however, to force a Technical Support center to use these things... "Umm, hang on, I (uhh) need to put you on hold so I can use my (uhh) mouse to look up some information for you..."

Friday, January 06, 2006

National Champions

The University of Texas Longhorns won the Rose Bowl 41-38 with a dramatic come-from-behind victory -- scoring twice in the final six and a half minutes to overcome a 12-point lead by the University of Southern California Trojans. Texas quarterback Vince Young was outstanding -- completing 75% of his passes and rushing for 200 yards, including 8 for the winning touchdown on 4th-down-and-5 when the game was on the line.

UT was well represented by fans attending the Rose Bowl; the Longhorn faithful occupied somewhere near 40% of the roughly 95,000 seats. We made enough noise to force USC into two delay of game penalties, and into calling two time-outs during the 3rd quarter.

Hook 'Em Horns!