Monday, February 26, 2007

Sign a Petition Against War in Iran is running a petition campaign urging Congress "to demand President Bush seek congressional authorization before considering military action in Iran."

Can't hurt to try, can it?

To add your name, visit:


An upgrade to Firefox was released in the past couple of days, a patch to address some security holes and some Windows Vista issues. See the release notes for details, if you want them. The upgrade is smooth and painless, or at least, it was for me.

If you already have Firefox 2.0.x installed, you can use the Help > Check for Updates menu sequence to perform the upgrade, or, in many cases, to verify that the upgrade already happened (Firefox does its minor upgrades automatically, unless you have shut this functionality off).

If you haven't upgraded from v1.x to v2 yet, you probably should. Details for this major upgrade are available by following the release notes page link above.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Search is Over

I have found universal confluence. On Cute Overload, no less.

Who knew?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Strange Rhyme …

… courtesy Fats Waller:

Your pedal extremities are colossal.
To me you look just like a fossil.

Guess the song? (Hint: there's no way to correctly apostrophize (sorry about that) the second word in the title.)

Weekend? What Weekend?

I have papers to grade!

(Click to zoom)

How To Find the Warmest Spot in the House

Step 1: Deploy cat
Step 2: Wait for nap

NB: Step 2 may require up to 20 minutes.

Click to zoom

More …

Monday, February 19, 2007

Creationism -- The Perfect Eye Thing

You know how the creationists like to talk about the eye as a "proof" that some things just could not have happened via evolution?

Look at this picture:

picture of a bug's eyes

Yeah, it's a gross bug, and it's probably a little hard to look at. (Or not. Click it to zoom.)

My point here is: look at those two little things to the top-center of the bug's head. The things that look like outgrown nostrils. Or vaginas hoohaas. Those things with the single whisker sort of thing growing out of the top of them.

Those "whiskers" are probably some kind of antennae.

It's not too hard to imagine a mutation of this bug's ancestor, wherein the compound eyes to the outside of the skull worked a little less well, just by chance, and the apparent secondary sensory organs, located more centrally, worked a little bit better, again, just by random mutation. Maybe this worked better in one particular otherwise stagnant pond, two hundred eighty million years ago.

We can also speculate that the offspring might well have continued to favor this bit of preferential randomness. How are we to say what the difference is between sight and heat sensation (which I guess is what those inner things are for in the case of this particular bug), or what the separation is, between smell and some other kind of sensory input? Yeah, those central things look like nostrils. But how are we to say that the compound eyes didn't shift to the sides of the skull to become ears, and that the things that look like a nose didn't become what we now call eyes?

I think we can't. What we learned as "our five senses" back in grammar school are really just five ways of participating in the electromagnetic spectrum. Or the sensing community, or something.

Your Moment of Freak

Check out this picture.

Nice to see what can be accomplished without Photoshop.

Trailer Trash Watch

The NYT reports:

After a year of courtship, Harlequin, the leading publisher of romance novels, has entered into not a marriage, exactly, but what a Harlequin heroine would call a meaningful relationship with Nascar, the stock-car racing association.

To which I can only respond: Isn't it nice to be part of the intellectual elite?

Bad Craziness

Clare mentioned David Brooks's recent strange column [T$] in an earlier comment, in which Brooks presents a strong defense of Hillary Clinton.

Now there's an item even more bizarre: Richard Mellon Scaife, after spending millions of dollars and most of the 1990s hounding the Clintons, has apparently "had a rethinking" and now believes "Clinton wasn't such a bad president. In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways …"

I am unsure whether to quote Hunter Thompson or Airplane here, so I'll give both:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.


Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Should've Said "Hoohaa"

In another sign of just how bad things have gotten in this country, there's now a controversy about the children's book, The Higher Power of Lucky, this year's winner of the Newberry Medal.

To wit:

The inclusion of the word [scrotum] has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books.

I know the media like to cover (read: inflate) controversies, but reading about banning a book just for mentioning a body part -- right after "The Vagina Hoohaa Monologues" nonsense -- makes me think the terrorists are winning.

Oh, wait. They already have.

Well, saying that will probably be banned tomorrow, too. Let's just say that the hoohaas are having the last haha.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Non-binding => Expansive

From today's NYT story about the House vote on the resolution:

With 392 members speaking, the debate lasted twice as long as when Congress voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force against Iraq.

Count on politicians to stand up and be counted when it doesn't really count, I say.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Check one off the list

(Update: link fix)

Did you ever hear of the concept of a list of X things to do before you die?

I might have heard of it for the first time when Fearless talked about it in Boomtown. Maybe half a decade ago? It kind of crystallized a vague notion that I'd had for years.

Some people have X = 1000, and I think my list is probably about that size, although I don't have a handy wallet-sized hardcopy like Fearless did. Whatever my own value of X, though, I'm do know that the percentage of items checked off is no more than 10%, even after imposing a severe reality filter.

But I did nail one of the biggies yesterday: I got to hear my favorite author read, in a room no bigger than half my apartment. He read two excerpts from recent books (Uncommon Carriers was one) and finished with a third piece, part of something about chalk, to be published in the New Yorker in about April.

If chalk makes you wonder, bear in mind that this guy once wrote an entire book about oranges, and I dare you to read the first ten pages and then try to put it down.

He didn't do a Q&A, and we didn't have enough time for me to wait in line to have a quick word, but that's probably for the best. My knees knock, my palms gush, and my brain threatens to go BSOD just thinking about the possibility in retrospect.

In my dreams, I would have brought my copy of Giving Good Weight, and instead of having him autograph it, I would have asked him to write, somewhere in the endpapers, the name of Otto's new restaurant. (Otto is the Brigade de Cuisine.)

John McPhee is the man.

Thanks, Clare.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Geek Snark and More

I came across an excellent blog last night, Jens Alfke's Thought Palace. Here are a couple of excerpts that made me laugh out loud (emph. added):

Just when it seemed, a decade ago, that the programming world had settled on C++ as the lingua franca, the One Language To Rule Them All, instead we got an explosion of new high-level languages that have risen to popularity. Why did this happen? Chiefly because the World-Wide Web has conditioned users to expect five-second delays before any responses to their actions, which provides an environment ideally suited for interpreted, garbage-collected scripting languages.

(The whole thing)


Me, I defected long ago. I’m another of those Apple Java engineers who dropped out. I spent five years as a raving Java fanboy, but I gave up after optimizing AWT, implementing drag and drop, and trying to make 1,200 pages of crappy APIs do the right thing on the Mac. Then I took a one-week Cocoa training course, and wrote the first prototype of iChat.

Desktop Java never worked because Sun tried to build their own OS on top of the real OS, duplicating every API and feature. This led to terrible bloat, making every app as heavyweight to launch as Photoshop. Worse, the GUI portions of the Java platform are awful, because Sun is a server company with no core competency at GUIs. The APIs are too clumsy to code to, and compared to any decent Mac app, the results look like a Soviet tractor built on a Monday.

(The whole thing)

A lot of Jens's site is programming-specific. One post of particular note that is not: Ozone. This is a fine piece of hallucination. Jens also provides optional background music on this page -- I recommend it.

Thanks to Jeff Atwood for the initial link.

Today's lead story in the NYT …

… is the new holder of the record for the most "I'm shocked, shocked!" responses:

Congress Finds Ways to Avoid Lobbyist Limits

If you insist on torturing yourself, story here.


The headline and teaser from the first runner up:

Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits
Educators and students say the University of Phoenix’s focus on the bottom line has eroded academic quality.

This story is worth a glance, if for no other reason than the disturbing photo of the University's president.


You do have to take some hope in learning that bishops in the Anglican church are called "primates," however. Maybe Darwin isn't on the Index of Forbidden Books for all sects.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Random Thoughts (Early February 2007)

I haven't been posting as much lately -- laptop death and general mood-cycling are two of the reasons. Also, I have been having thoughts more fleeting lately, and either they don't cohere, or I'm too lazy to put in the effort to expand upon any one of them.

This is the blogger's primary quandry -- posting after not having posted for a while: is an apology really the best thing to start out with?

That's enough of a disclaimer, don't you think?

So, without further ado, here are some of the random thoughts that made it at least as far as my notes.notes file in the past week or so. Some mild editing and re-sorting have been done to prevent embarrassment over typos or truly incomprehensible segues. Some embarrassment doubtless remains. But maybe one or two of the following jottings will provoke a discussion. And we definitely need more discussions. And fewer debates. (But feel free to shout back however.)

Evidently, that was not enough of a disclaimer. (Or maybe, we've moved onto the parentheticals.) Maybe now we are done with all of them. And the sentence fragments, too.

Other than that, I can only say: The back button remains your first and best defense.

That was your final warning.

A quick fix of visual stimulation and forlorn imagination may be obtained by visiting The Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Here's what went though my mind the last time I went there:

When I was a little boy, I imagined that I'd have a reasonable chance at having a job on the moon. I was about nine when the Apollo missions first started landing there, and it seemed a reasonable extrapolation.

In retrospect, it still does. I often look at the full moon and get sad about how funding priorities shifted.

Contemplating humans visiting Mars seems like the next thing that we should really, really do. The problem is, at least a decade of hard-core robotic missions has to be done first -- no, probably two or three decades' worth, given the travel times, waits for conjunctions, etc.

And given our financial and political system, it's awfully hard to pay for that kind of extended, mid-range financing. Not much to show for a quarter's -- or even a year's -- work.

A decade's worth of work? I've got no doubt about that. Give me ten billion a year for ten years, and I guarantee that me and the rest of the off-planet geeks could tell you a story that would make your hair stand on end -- you'd have the same passion that we have right now.

To put my price in context: that's about one-tenth of the lower end of the estimates of the cost of your president's current deciderism decision makingism decision concerning Iraq.

As I've said to practically whoever has ever been in earshot, I strongly believe that the only way to ensure the long term, and ultimate, survival of our species is to develop the capability to get enough seeds off planet Earth. As Robert Wright has said, the technology for destruction is growing faster than our ability to contain it.

Plan B: (the momentary optimist rears his ugly head:)

Maybe we'll blow a significant chunk of ourselves away, but we won't exterminate ourselves. Hopefully, the last few will retain enough of the ClifNotes to get back up to speed quickly, and enough healthy respect for the unintended consequences to try a different path the second time around.

Which led to:

Here's Where I'd Like The State of the Art to Move To:

Remember those watch ads from like the '70s, where you were told that as long as your wore your watch, the normal movement of your arm would somehow keep the thing going?

I have 4 rechargeable batteries. Two go in my camera. Two go in a pocket flashlight. During winter, I can conveniently carry the flashlight in a coat pocket (ditto camera -- we'll see what summer brings). The flashlight, while occasionally handy, is really just a way to carry two backup batteries, with the obvious occasional fringe benefit function tossed in. Anyway, I'd like the fact that I carried the flashlight to imply enough movement to keep the flashlight batteries slowly charging. (The camera's batteries' charging from just being carried around is Dream 2.0.)

For v0.5, could you come up with a gizmo that, say, straps to your thigh and you can charge batteries by walking/jogging? Should be small enough to strap to iPod or other waist gizmo, or have own belt/clip. Big enough to charge 2 AA batteries, say.

The Humanerator? The HumanGenerator? The HumGen????

Beltpack has some kind of storage battery. Maybe this instead of carrying batteries to be recharged, although latter would be better. Thin cable to thigh, some kind of piezo? thing to generate elec charge from being moved.

Would like other Professor items from Gilligan's Island, too. Exercise bike to charge batteries might be more immediately practicable. Also, treadmill, other home exercise gear.

Cynically, all of these devices are already plugged in. Could make v0.1 actually do nothing -- just add battery charging compartment to exer dev, charge off existing line current. Greens would buy this.

This is how the big boys would do it, I suspect.

This has been another in a series of great ideas that you could (maybe) make large dollars from. I would, but I'm more of a big picture guy too lazy.

And of course, there is always the resident manx to provoke a musing:

Pic of the Resident Manx
Will you stop taking pictures of me to support your meanderings? Just got my eyes shut in time.
Yeah, so I've scratched on this chair once or twice. That's to show that I OWN IT!
And yeah, that's a Santorum campaign poster in the background. Sue me. I thought it would better serve as a dustcover. Litterbox liner would also be good, but the Resident Human is falling down on that.
Since your eyes aren't anywhere near as good as mine, even when mine are shut, you might want to click on the pic to see supporting details.
Or not.
I don't care if you do. I'm a cat. Feed me.
Did you ever watch how a cat approaches a new thing in a room? Slowly. Slowly.

And then when she gets close, especially if the new thing isn't moving, she does one final test before she actually gets close enough to put her nose on it: she fakes a dodge away from it. It looks at first glance like a startle reflex, but it's so perfunctory that it really looks more like a feint.

The evolutionary advantage of this is easily guessed at: You (the cat) are priming yourself for a quick getaway right before the moment of ultimate risk. Also, if some annoying thing that should by rights be your next meal might be just playing dead, the close up sudden move should overcome any possum playing.

And we all like to play with our food.

If instead of "manx" you spell it ManX, it looks more gay. This will probably scare Republicans. This last is a good thing.

From a bad moment with my explorations of web radio:

Music/Voices that set me on edge
hootie and the blowfish
frank sinatra
elvis presley
elvis costello
the clash
michael bolton
kenny G
any version of anything heard in a grocery store

There are many more.

From a few days ago:

It's a disturbing thing when you realize that you are in a new habit of keeping your cigarettes even more handy than they were in your last system. I have lately started keeping the pack and the lighter right on my desk, instead of in the handy slot of the dragon ashtray.

Pic of dragon ashtray

I am also smoking more. Perhaps these two phenomena are not unrelated.

A thought so recurring that it has no real dateline:

Story beginning:

I often think about suicide. Apart from the unresolvable worry about hurting those few close to me, I next don't do it because I'd want my suicide note to be book length.

Sometimes I work on part of this book. But the work goes slowly.

It's therefore hard to say whether procrastination is ultimately a good or bad thing.

And no, this isn't a cry for help. Or even attention.

Well … maybe attention.

I have the plan that disturbing thought that these random thought things could suddenly become a regular feature. Maybe you'd better vote:

Accept | Decline

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ice, Ice Baby

I'll have to be a little more careful about setting fires in my apartment, I guess.

Picture of icicles

More icicles on my Picasaweb site.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Web Chill

I recently came across a site that streams "chill" music. If you like this sort of music, visit: HelpMeChill and click the "Listen Live" button in the upper right corner.

A smaller pop-up window will appear -- without any "play" button -- the music will eventually just start playing. It takes a few seconds on my system, which may be due to initial buffering. You should see a message in small type in the pop-up window that it is "initiating media" while the wait happens.

For a truly bizarre experience, do this on two computers at once.

Recommendations for others in this genre most welcome.

Friday, February 02, 2007

And speaking of powerful people with no connection to reality …

Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine.
--Bill Gates, 2007-02-01

He really said this. He really did. Just a day or two ago.

Thanks to Rixstep for pointing this out and to the Clix Exchange forum for supplying the reference link.

Bullet Points of the Day: 2007-02-02

Lifecycle of a bad idea, from Dive into Mark.


I'm overjoyed to see the flood of fond remembrances for Molly Ivins, all across the Web, in print, and over the air. I don't have any words that seem sufficiently distinct to add. If you've read this blog for a while, you know how I felt about her.

On the night that she died, I started to compile some links to the better pieces that I saw, but … there's no need. You can find them.

There is one link that I'd like to offer, however: Betmo has posted a great picture. It must have been taken very recently. You can see clearly what cancer, and the attempted treatments, have done. But check out that toughness, and check out that smile.

Makes me wish I'd never used the word "hero" before, so I had it in reserve for this moment.