Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moving Story

I was looking through the "free" section of Craig's List to see what my chances were to give away stuff. Saw this poignant ad headline:

Dirt in Pittsford - no longer available sorry

One can only imagine the craze the original posting must have provoked.

There's Never a Camera Around When You Want One

While dropping off my rental truck a short while ago, I looked at the ground right behind where I had parked my car. I saw two-thirds of a broken CD, with the handwritten label "Fuck Mix." Next to it was a torn-off doll's head. I can't get this image out of my mind. If I weren't so thrashed, I'd drive back over there, camera in hand.

I'll spare you the other 900+ words. I'll just say: this would have made a great picture.

In other hilarity at UHaul: When I showed up this morning to pick up the truck, I had to wait about a half an hour to get the key. Seems the previous renter had dropped off the truck the night before, but brought the key home.

Me: "Don't you have spare keys for just such eventualities?"

Proprietor: "Yes. That was the spare key."

Lesson: If you only bring two cigarettes for the errand, because you think it'll be quick, you're plain asking for it.

But it all worked out well. Even got a shout-out of "Welcome to the neighborhood!" from a passerby, while unloading. The moving crew, though 50% undersized, did a fine job. The only one to break something was yours truly. The movers were kind enough not to snicker.

What's In a Name?

With political parties, probably not a whole lot. Still, one can dream.

I'm reading an article about Japan's recent election. The Liberal Democratic Party didn't have a great day. The main opposition party? The Democratic Party.

How great would the U.S. be if those were our two parties?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Maybe Not So Senior Moment

bjkeefe: self portrait 1 So, I go to get my hair cut, because tomorrow is the big moving day, and I've about had it with pushing sweaty strands out of my eyes during the past few days of packing.

I drop by World Hair, put my name on the list, go outside for a cigarette, browse through Utta Clutter's sidewalk display, come back in, and get handshook and seated by Kim.

She has the body of a twenty-year old, but she gets my lame joke about that '80s band, Haircut 100.

"Sure, they had that one hit." bjkeefe: self portrait 2

I can't remember it, so I say, "I can't remember it."

"Boy Meets Girl."

There are many ways to read this hopefully, and maybe even to extrapolate.

Not for me, though. I'm late for shuffleboard.

bjkeefe: self portrait 3

Talk About Your Superfluous Hardware

The headline:

Cheney Receives New Battery for Heart Monitor


Well, actually … maybe it's in there to prevent beating.

Organic Fuel

This just in from KK, one of my favorite, um, sages:

Organic Fuel

Eye Rolling Article of the Day: It's a Tie

I often wonder what's up with the world when I look at the NY Times Top 10 Emailed articles list. Sometimes there's an interesting outlier. Too often, though, the articles on the list have to do with some perceived social phenomenon or another. Emphasis on perceived.

There's an old saying in the newspaper busines: Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a trend!

I'd like to believe this saying originated with crusty and cynical reporters, hard-bitten, just-the-facts types. Rose-colored view of the past or not, today's news biz seems overwhelmed by people who miss the irony in that statement. Articles often sound like the reporter heard some tidbit amid idle cocktail party chatter, spent an hour or two on the phone the next day to see if anyone else had anecdotes like that, and then banged out a piece on something Sweeping The Nation.

From today's list, we have two examples. The first, "When Whippersnappers and Geezers Collide," describes the rift, no, gulf, no, chasm of misunderstanding between the managers at giant corporations and the twenty year olds who intern for them.

The second, "Cake, but No Presents, Please," describes the latest craze in the Perfect Parent Parade: guest toddlers now come bearing money to be donated to the candleblower's charity of choice.

Gah. I wish I had a bird. Then I could have a cage. Then I'd need to line it.

P.S. I know you're itching to point out that this blog post is itself an example of noting some dubious trend, based to a mere two examples. Don't make me drown you in supporting evidence.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Economy Brought Down By One Person

Named Jinnet. Who posted this link: the Monty Python Video Wall.

See you in a few weeks.

Moving Pictures

Somebody's making sure that the new address will be her new address, too.

Bunny in a box

But she mellowed shortly afterward, in fact, she relaxed to the point where a favorite napping place did not seem objectionable, even if stood on end. (It, not her.)

Bunny on a desk

This is a new theme I'm trying to get everyone on teh Internets to do: post pictures of your cat.

Could be huge! (It, not her.)

In case you have yet to barf:

I was going to augment the title thus: Moving Pictures, No Tales. But the manx is sensitive about that sort of pun.

Okay, I Surrender. Creationism Really is The Truth!

A sign in Berkeley, CA, of all places:

Evolution: Going out of business

Okay, so I quoted a little out of context. Let's look at the big picture.

Evolution FURNITURE: Going out of business

I do expect to see the first picture swiped and reposted a few times. Let me know if you come across it.

Now this one's a bit more interesting

(Title in flow from the last post I put up)

It says here:

NASA administrators promised fast action today in response to an internal investigation that said astronauts had flown after drinking heavily on at least two occasions.

At first, I thought it might mean before flying a plane. (Astronauts at least used to be allowed to commandeer jets at will.) But, no, this is before getting on a rocket:

… Col. Richard Bachmann Jr., who headed the panel, said that one of the astronauts referred to in the findings flew on a Russian spacecraft, and another was cleared to launch on a space shuttle.

I find this hard to believe, for at least two reasons. First, the obvious one, which was alluded to by an unnamed astronaut quoted in the story: these people are practically locked in a clean room for several days before flight. I can see that it might be a game to try to sneak in a nip or two, but really, drunk?

Second, the wait for an astronaut before actually getting a flight is years. Who would screw that up, after jumping through all those hoops, and waiting that long?

This story has the smell of a hidden agenda. Your conspiracy theories are welcome. Mine is pretty tame: some politician or other insider wants to kill all crewed space flights.

And no diaper jokes.

Anyone Not Tired of This Song Yet?

The blurb, from the NYT's front page:

A spokesman insisted the attorney general did not mislead Congress, but said national security factors prevented clarification.

Read the whole thing, if you want. I can't be bothered.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fame! (My credit balance is now down to 14 minutes, 30 seconds)

Who here caught the 25 July NY Times Tech Talk podcast?

The real excitement begins at 3:33 from the beginning.

Thanks, Tom and J.D.

Your Daily Dose of Paranoia

I composed this post on 2007-07-25, and noticed 2007-08-16 that I had forgotten to publish it. Or maybe I was scared.

Under a ruling this month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, such surveillance -- which does not capture the content of the communications -- can be conducted without a wiretap warrant, because internet users have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the data when using the internet.
-- Kevin Poulsen

(h/t: Matt Egan)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Low Stakes?

Also of note in today's NYT: Liz Robbins's coverage of NBA commissioner David Stern's recent press conference.

Stern, of course, was speaking about Tim Donaghy, a referee who had been accused of betting on NBA games that he worked. I'd not heard of Donaghy before this news broke a few days ago. Robbins reports that over the past two seasons, he's only worked eight playoff games. I watch the playoffs pretty closely, and the fact that he was completely unfamiliar to me makes me think these probably weren't marquee games.

I'm not at all trying to excuse Donaghy, if the accusations turn out to be true. But I do wonder, how much interest could there have been in betting on these games in the first place?

Talk About Your 5-Sigma Events!

As of this moment, the NY Times's fourth-most emailed story is a survey of current doings in particle physics.

What's up with that?

It is a good article. The author, Dennis Overbye, always does a nice job demurkifying things. There's also a fun flavor of gossip running throughout -- one thread in the story has to do with physicists, their blogs, and the rumor mill therein.

A couple of weeks ago, on a "Science Saturday" edition of, physicist Sean Carroll talked about the frequent interest he sees, among laypersons, in what's happening on the cutting edge of research in his field. Even here in Amurrika. This "most emailed" ranking adds weight to his assertion. A real sign of hope, I'd call it.

By the way, the headline is "At Fermilab, the Race Is on for the 'God Particle'." (The term refers to a particle called the Higgs boson, the search for which cannot be called anything other than a holy grail for particle physics.) This made me think that was the explanation for the high ranking, but a moment later, I realized that just clicking on a link to a story with a catchy headline and making the effort to share it are two different things.

Also by the way: I thought Leon Lederman was the guy who came up the term "The God Particle." Overbye does not give a source. It could well be that he didn't write the headline, of course. Anybody know if Lederman was the originator of this phrase, or if he borrowed it from someone else?

Lederman did say he titled his book as such because the publisher wouldn't let him call it "The Goddam Particle." This is one of my favorite books of all time. If you want a more in-depth look at what Overbye's article discusses, this is a good place to go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When a Hiss is a Cheer

One arena in which the Brits are the unquestioned world leaders is the wording of signs. Here's an example, captured by KK:

No Parking, the British way, by KK

(click pic to zoom)

You probably know that I collect these things.

Monday, July 23, 2007

In this post, the gnats are the big picture

Truly tiny point (you know how I love to strain at 'em!):

In the Dawkins reading that I mentioned yesterday, he at one point says "circa," but pronounces it "kirka." I was unable to stop pondering this all day today.

None of the dictionaries that I looked at, both online and here at home, provide this alternate pronunciation. Not even the OED.

Thus, I turned to the preeminent source for all matters linguistic, and asked, "Could it be that Dawkins is imperfect?" Dan replied:

I'm afraid he is perfect, if a bit pretentious. The classical pronunciation (as best as scholars can determine), used during Roman times, was "kirka", spelt "circa". Then in the Middle Ages it was changed variously to "chirka", "tsirka", or "sirka", depending on the local vernacular).

That sure sounds good.

I Googled "circa kirka" and found two pertinent hits before I lost patience paging through the results. One used it in passing as an example, on page 48 of a MEGO-inducing rant about phonetics when Hebrew and English are both involved. The title of the work is Glorious Incomprehensible, so I hope you'll forgive my lack of attention.

The other merely noted the utterance by a college English professor. This prof apparently had a reputation for obscure, and correct, alternate pronunciations. One of the commenters on this post does say something along the lines of Dan's explanation.

To put this issue to bed (as if you all aren't already asleep), I'd like to hear if any of you have ever heard a (smart) person pronounce "circa" as "kirka." It would be especially interesting to hear from the British contingent of the reading masses.


A Dribble of Truth Leaks Out

Did you know that the Washington Post got hold of a list of the attendees of those "energy task force" meetings held in early 2001? You remember. This was probably the first hint of Dick Cheney's fetish for secrecy, even before 9/11. A NY Times editorial mentioned it, so I looked at the WaPo's site.

Here's the article I found. You might also read the transcript of an interview with one of the reporters who wrote the article.

No huge surprises; i.e., probably whomever you suspected was there, was there. Still, it's good to get these things on the record.

Here's a nice example of the Orwellian naming and incestuousness that characterizes the Bush & Cronies' way of doing business:

One advocacy group that visited was the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by Grover Norquist and Gale A. Norton, who became Bush's first interior secretary. Later, the group was run by Italia Federici, who was involved socially with Steven Griles. Griles, then Norton's deputy at Interior, was recently sentenced to prison for obstructing a Senate investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Krugman On the Internet

Paul Krugman's op-ed piece for today looks at the U.S. Internet infrastructure. It's a clear summary of a big problem.


The numbers are startling. As recently as 2001, the percentage of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.

Even more striking is the fact that our "high speed" connections are painfully slow by other countries' standards. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours. Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much cheaper in both countries than it is here.


What happened to America's Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot -- or was persuaded by special interests to ignore -- the reality that sometimes you can't have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you're in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

America's Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue -- but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal's editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.

And did you catch the subtle dig at The Moustache of Understanding? Hee hee!

But, seriously, Krugman's piece is well worth reading.


No, not that guy. I'm just noting that I passed the milestone first. Without using the clear or the cream.

This is post #756. Thank you for your attention. Gotta go. Commissioner Selig ought to be calling any moment.


2007-08-16 14:59 EDT

So much for my counting skills. Actually, after some blog maintenance -- deleting remnants of draft posts -- this is now post #753. But I still whupped him.

Can you believe the level of OCD that would compel me to note this?

Who Let The Suit Speak?

In an otherwise entertaining article sent to me by KK, I came across one ear-itant: Hyping a new video (read: commercial) made by Christopher Guest, Intel spokeswoman Nancy Bhagat said: "… the pure entertainment value will be positive for our brand imagery."

Sheesh. Can't you people keep your jargon straight? Stale though the phrase may be, brand image is what you wanted. Imagery is what you say when you want to be pompous about some pictures that your spy satellite took.

And speaking of ear-itants, do you suddenly find yourself chanting "who, who, who-who?"

Sorry about all this. I haven't had much coffee yet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good Read: Dreaming in Code

I finished Scott Rosenberg's Dreaming in Code last night. It kept me up way late.

Spoiler alert: I do say a little about what happens in the book. Also, while I don't explicitly say how it ends, you might pick up clues.

Still here? Okay, good!

I'd heard about this book before it came out, and I was looking forward to it. As fate would have it, I renewed my Salon subscription around the time it was released, and I noticed that I could get a copy as a fringe benny. Nice! Anyway, it took the usual six weeks for delivery, and then I stuck it in the pile of books to be read when I have enough time to read them in one sitting, and … I finally got around to it.

Dreaming in Code is too often portrayed as the software version of Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine. This is an understandable blurb or elevator pitch, but it's limiting and it's more than a little unfair. Rosenberg does frame the book as himself playing fly on the wall, watching a team of programmers trying to design and build a killer app named Chandler, and so the parallel is obvious. But (going on long-term memory here) Kidder wrote as though he was absolutely new to what he was reporting on. Rosenberg, by contrast, displays at least some chops -- he starts by telling a great story that took place way back in the year 2000: sweating it out alone, under the hood, in the dark hours of early morning, responsible for a key upgrade to Salon's web publishing software.

Rosenberg's experience and evident long-time interest in fighting playing with computers lets him go beyond Kidder's approach. Throughout, he steps away from just reporting on the daily grind. He gives history, he brings in other points of view, and he lets himself intrude when he's not with the Chandler team. I was going to say he provides context for the inner story, but it's a lot more than that. Toward the end of the book, he devotes the better part of entire chapters to an overview of software development, as an industry and as an art. He examines why it's so hard, and without being a doomsayer, why it might never get much better.

To my mind, Rosenberg's global commentary is the better part of the book. Some of the coverage of the Chandler woes reminded me of cringe moments from my own code monkey life. I was also a little irritated by the company's set-up: this was a project with a vague holy grail, a ton of internal cash, and no real deadlines. They had a rock star CEO who attracted rock star programmers. Consequently and unsurprisingly, Chandler immediately suffered paralysis-by-analysis.

It is a tiny drawback to Rosenberg's book that he chose a somewhat atypical company to cover, but it's not, ultimately, that important. What happens compares to most other software development efforts. The only difference, I suppose, is that the plug would have been pulled in other cases; Chandler is still alive.

To be fair about it, the goals of Chandler were admirable. It was to be something that truly let you organize disparate bits of information -- your calendar, email, chats, your own notes, pictures, everything -- all so that it would be easy for you to find, to stay on top of, and to share. You and your friends could not only read each other's Chandler stuff, but you could allow each other to modify it as well. Everything would be available on any computer you might sit down at. Full peer to peer sharing -- no irritating uploads to a server, no clunky Web interface. And best of all, you wouldn't have to restructure your brain to use the program. No irritating constraints. No wrestling with a piece of crap "written by programmers." Intuitive, flexible, infinitely extensible (and did we mention open source?!). Just the way a computer program should work.

Also in fairness: Had I been asked in the beginning, I would have killed to join this effort.

After I finished reading Dreaming in Code, I wondered who I might recommend it to. I suspected people who do software development for a living or as a serious hobby would share my annoyances with the foibles of the Chandler team. I also wondered whether plain and simple users would be scared off by some of the geekery. But, I kept thinking, this is a great book!

So here's why I recommend it.

First, it's really well-written. I'd put Rosenberg's ability to make words flow off the page up against anybody's. When someone writes as well as he does, the topic is almost beside the point.

And for you, specifically?

Maybe you write code, or at least like to tinker. Here's what's in store for you: Rosenberg is sympathetic, without being in any way apologetic, to the developer point of view. If you know what "Hello, world" means, you'll at least like the war stories from software's first fifty years. You'll love the detailed links and references in the notes. You might feel sympathy and a sense of kin to many of the book's characters. And I'm willing to bet you find real meat in Rosenberg's ruminations and prognostications about the whole sorry mess.

Maybe, on the other hand, you don't write code. You think computers should Just Work. You wonder when we'll no longer need wizardly incantations to accomplish what should be easy. You long for a day when "user interface" does not equate to "what were those boneheads thinking?" So what's in store for you?

Maybe, just maybe, you'll be awed by the effort, put forth by so many, to fulfill these dreams.

Dawkins at Kepler's Bookstore

(Updated below)

For some time now, I have been trying to articulate a response to the teeming masses who say that Richard Dawkins "goes too far." It comes as no surprise that he doesn't need my help, as a new video that I just watched makes clear.

The video is about a half hour long. There's a somewhat funny intro by someone else that lasts about eight minutes. When Dawkins takes the mic, he spends most of his time reading from a new preface that he composed for the paperback version of The God Delusion (currently only available in the UK).

Dawkins's preface, or at least the part that he read, is a response to the professional critics of his book. It's what you'd expect from Dawkins: simultaneously witty and devastating. In short, a real treat.

Go watch it.

In case you don't notice the link on the video page, you can also watch the Q&A that followed Dawkins's reading. (I just noticed it myself.)

Thanks to the phabulous Pharyngula for noting the link.


2007-07-22 17:56 EDT

BTW, during the Q&A, Dawkins refers several times to Julia Sweeney's one woman play, "Letting Go of God." You can see a video excert that she performed at the TED conference, listen to a different audio excerpt on This American Life, and check out more audio excerpts, some of which overlap the ones just mentioned, right on her site.

Dawkins also reads a note passed to him, reporting that Sweeney would be appearing that evening on CSPAN. It turns out that this latter video aired 14 July 2007; a link on this page points to the video. (This link may break as time goes by, at which point you'll have to invoke your search skills.) Sweeney's talk, "Why I Am An Atheist," starts at about 56:30 in. It's new material, and hilarious.

Friday, July 20, 2007

1 Nightmare. 1 Dream.

KCRW's Left, Right & Center finished up this week with a chilling note: Tomorrow, Dick Cheney will officially be the Acting President of the United States. George W. Bush will be undergoing a colonoscopy, so he's going all Section 3 of the 25th Amendment on us.

Let's resist the temptation to ask how Bush being unconscious for a few hours tomorrow afternoon will differ measurably from his state of awareness the past six years, or to wonder, really, just how much of a change in power is this? Let's also be grown up enough to avoid nominating auxiliary instruments to be used during the probe of the First Anus.

Instead, let's just indulge in the thought of Sugar Ray Leonard uncontrollably flashing back to his bouts with Roberto Duran:

Sugar Ray Leonard (and some stiff)

Photo credit: Xinhua/Reuters

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse?

Or the dawn of a new day? We excerpt, you decide:

From the NYT, with a little mild emphasis added:

President Bush’s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Laden's leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan had failed …

The Bush Administration admitting failure? And with regard to the turrurists?

In other news, the Flat Earth Society issued a press release acknowledging: "Things do look a little curvy at the edges."

Security Updates for Flash and Java

I've held off posting about recent security updates for most programs that I use, under the assumption that anyone reading this blog has by now set up these same programs for automatic notification or updating, or just doesn't care.

However, this seems worth special notice. Brian Krebs has reported two important patches, neither of which triggered update notifications on my system: Flash and Java. Both of these run primarily as plugins in your browser, which means you really should update them as soon as possible.

Krebs's post has all the details and pertinent links, including how to show which version you have and where to get the update, for both applications.

One thing that he mentions that I'll reiterate: On Windows only, the Java update process doesn't remove old versions. Since this is a potential security hole, you should remove them yourself. Just use Add/Remove programs, as described by Krebs. On various PCs, I either removed all the old ones before installing the new version, or did it afterwards. Didn't seem to matter either way.

Updating both was simple, following his links. Total time: about 5 minutes per PC.

The Mac update for Flash was equally painless. Mac will issue its own update for Java, says Krebs. I just ran Software Update; nothing yet.

Sun's Java page for Linux did not specify that the upgrade applied to Ubuntu, so I'm going to wait a few days and see if the built-in Ubuntu Software Updates offer anything. The Flash update was painless.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

New Public Editor at the NY Times

Okay, new to me. But I'm glad to hear about it. Here's the lede from the NYT's own announcement, dated 4 May 2007:

The New York Times today named its next public editor, Clark Hoyt, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor who oversaw the Knight Ridder newspaper chain's coverage that questioned the Bush administration's case for the Iraq war.

Not quite the outsider that many were hoping for, as I noted this past March, but evidently, at least some cred as a pro journalist. You can find links to all of his columns so far by visiting the public editor's home page.

Hoyt's first piece ran on 10 June 2007. (This is the only one you have to pay to see, since it ran as an opinion piece before his official start date, and has since become part of the NYT Archives.) He examined placement of a story about a foiled terrorist plot to blow up fuel tanks at JFK. The NYT had decided against page 1 placement, since the editors felt the "plot" was more wishful thinking than something truly nipped in the bud. Hoyt thought there was a case to be made for putting it on page 1 to emphasize that it wasn't a big dramatic story, which was how it was being hyped by most TV reporting. In other words, the real story, as Hoyt saw it, was as another example of the Bush Administration maybe, just maybe, playing the fear card. It's not a dramatic exposé, of course, but he raises some interesting, if subtle points.

Inside baseball in any arena is always a matter of taste; I'll be the first to acknowledge a genetic predisposition to fascination with newsroom goings-on, and also to acknowledge that this interest is not widely shared.

If you're still with me …

Hoyt also (gasp) has a blog on the NYT site. His first post, dated 26 June, talks about the NYT's policies concerning their employees and outside compensations. The NYT clearly bans just about all gifts and cash, which would seem to reassure, but I thought he missed touching on one obvious issue: Given the constant demand for bodies in the 24/7 news world, people who write for the NYT have many opportunities to appear as talking heads. Even though they can't take appearance fees, it's obvious that such appearances contribute to building their "brand identities," as the current jargon would have it. Lots of these people also write books (which the NYT policy permits), so the appearances act as advertising for the authors and their new books, and so there is an indirect financial gain being realized. Also, every appearance by a reporter or columnist constitutes a de facto product placement for the Times itself.

I'm not advocating a ban on outside appearances, or writing books, for that matter. I like hearing what reporters and columnists have to say outside of their usual space in the paper. I just think Hoyt should have touched on this.

P.S. Hoyt deserves props for charging the NYT with tamely accepting George W. Bush's ongoing Al Qaeda mantra and his conflation of the 9/11 hijackers to the group in Iraq that has adopted the name. This piece is, in fact, what brought the new PE to my attention -- thanks to's "Beat the Press" podcast.


Hey! I just thought of a topic for which there is no Wikipedia page: the Ralians!

I now join the rest of humanity in admitting that I, too, have no interest in writing one.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Strike 9 From Outer Space

I've been on a bit of an astronomy/cosmology surfing expedition the past couple of weeks, and delving into the archives of some good blogs, I keep coming across reminders of last year's furor: the question of Pluto's planetary status. (Hey, even I briefly weighed in on this one.) I'm tempted to go through my browser's history and build a page of nothing but clever posts about the issue, but for the moment, here are two:

Here's the meta-comment on the whole mess, from Sean Carroll:

Most everyone who writes about it admits that it doesn’t matter, before launching into a passionate defense of what they think the real definition should be.

And from the same site, but a different author, yet another example of why it's usually a bad idea to let governments mandate science: "States have Rights, but I don’t think this is one of them."

Political Post From a Physicist of the Day: 2007-07-14

Okay, maybe not such a huge universe of possibilities that I need to imply that this feature could in principle appear 365 times between now and next year. Still, this actually caused me to spray beer from my mouth. (Don't worry, none got on the keyboard.)

The line where said spray occurred begins "That would truly …" if you're seeking deep insights into my twisted nature.

More Geek

(Following the preceding post …)

Is it possible that a blog post about economics and statistical techniques could make you laugh out loud? You be the judge.

Be sure to read to the end. The last line encapsulates everything I feel about modern Republican science.

You Might Be A Geek If …

… you laugh at this:

String theory does have the remarkable experimental evidence that gravity exists all around us.

The Wikipedia page, "Introduction to M-theory," attributes this joke to Edward Witten. (If the name Edward Witten is familiar to you, all doubt about your geekitude is removed. (This, btw, is a Good Thing.))

The article is a good one. I've slowly become a fan of Wikipedia, but one complaint remains: most of the articles have a writing style so sterile they make the Sahara fecund by comparison. I've speculated in the past that this is likely due to the Wikipedia community's fetish for neutrality.

To that, I now add the speculation that the style is the inevitable result of output from a committee. It could be that the more esoteric topics get covered on Wikipedia, primarily, by one author. I'll have to look at some more of the exotics, to see if there is anything to this hypothesis.

Well, to be fair, gathering data hardly has anything to do with M-theory.

If you got that that last was also a joke, I tip my propeller beanie to you.

Line of the Day: 2007-07-14

…he has the intense, unblinking mien of a self-published science fiction writer …
-- Christopher Hayes

Here, Hayes is describing Michael Perelman, a so-called "heterodox" economist. As I've mentioned from time to time, I am firmly in the camp that describes capitalism as the worst economic system ever, except for all the rest. I have no idea whether the heterdocs are on to anything, but I'm glad to hear that some serious people are trying to think of something better. I'm also saddened to hear that they seem to be having trouble getting heard. Here's another teaser:

Despite the fact that as many as one in five professional economists belongs to a professional association that might be described as heterodox, the phrase "heterodox economics" has appeared exactly once in the New York Times since 1981. During that same period "intelligent design," a theory endorsed by not a single published, peer-reviewed piece of scholarship, has appeared 367 times.

Obviously, I recommend the article.

I got to this article by following one of the links mentioned in this week's edition of "Science Saturday" on I've raved about this site before, and perhaps I've also mentioned that the "Science Saturday" diavlogs are consistently among the best. If you're interested, I posted a longer rave about this episode in the Comments over on Or, you can just go watch it, and see how good it is for yourself.

One of the participants was a guest, Sean Carroll. Carroll works at Cal Tech, and besides writing papers that you probably need more math than I have to follow, he apparently blogs heavily and proselytizes to other scientists to do the same. I like this line, from his Self page:

Like all contemporary deep thinkers, I've taken up blogging as a way to share my free-ranging wisdom with the breathlessly waiting world.

In the diavlog, Carroll talks about the thirst of the public to be let in on the excitement of current research, and says "the demand is dramatically underserved" (by the researchers). We need more scientists like this.

Well, this post is starting (starting?!?) to approach the state of many topics in one, none of which have much to do with the title, so I'll end it here. I urge you to follow the links, though.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Making Google Earth's KML and KMZ Files Work On Your Website

If you have stored a KML or KMZ file on your website or blog, and clicking a link for this file doesn't launch Google Earth, but instead just displays the file's XML code, you might have a MIME association problem. I have posted a page of notes related to this matter, if you're interested.

If none of this makes any sense to you, don't worry. It's just another example of my fascination with solving obscure computer glitches.

Line of the Day: 2007-07-13

… now we know a vegan who’s suffering from ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease.

The above was posted in an online forum by "JimTarHeel" in response to the outing of sock puppet Rahodeb, whose real-life identity is John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market. Rahodeb would frequently post entries praising Mackey and Whole Foods, and bashing Wild Oats. (whole story)

New Phrase: "Green Pants Republicans"

On the 12 July 2007 podcast of the Slate Gabfest, I heard this phrase (from either John Dickerson or David Plotz): "good old fashioned green pants Republicans."

I'm guessing it's a variant of "blue collar," in the sense of people who wear that sort of khaki work pants. Google returns zero matches for "green pants republican[s]," however.

Anyone know what it means? Anyone ever heard it before?

BTW, at the end of this podcast during the "Cocktail Chatter" segment, Emily Bazelon gives a great argument for why we should keep expressing outrage about things like the revelations recently made by the last Surgeon General, despite the fact that it feels like we've heard this sort of thing about the Bush Administration a thousand times before. Go listen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sometimes a Banana is Just …

… well, you be the judge. Presumably, if you're right with God, you won't read anything else into this inarguably inarguable piece of evidence for Creationism Intelligent Design.

Hat tip to The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, where they mentioned this one during episode 40.

Line of the Day: 2007-07-11

Cross-culture insemination! You can't stop it. You can't even hope to contain it.

The above is from a fascinating Andrew Leonard post in his ongoing Salon blog, "How The World Works," describing the whisky wars between India and the EU. Both sides are accusing the other of being "protectionist." The good news: the WTO is also involved.

Leonard's line reminds me of Sen. Jay Bulworth's advocacy of a policy of progressive racial deconstruction. And you?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bring Back Jocelyn Elders

Kudos to you if you remember Dr. Elders. If not …

There's a story in today's NYTimes about testimony given before Congress by Richard Carmona, who was Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006. In his testimony, he described the political pressures put upon him by other Bushies; e.g., they " … would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues … " It goes downhill from there to a point of true surreality:

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And on and on and on. No great surprise, although the details make even my jaded heart sink.

This being the NYT, we have to hear "the other side." Enter the trained seal of the moment, drawn from the Bush Administration's limitless supply of blandly named people who will say anything for money:

Bill Hall, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that the administration disagreed with Dr. Carmona’s statements. "It has always been this administration's position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science," Mr. Hall said.

I guess if you're the sort of person who is convinced that the Book of Genesis tells you all you need to know about cosmology and biology, you might accept that.

I have to say, however, that by the time I got to the end of the article, I had almost zero sympathy for Carmona. It sounded like Colin Powell all over again. I wanted to scream in his face, "Why did you wait until NOW to speak up?"

In general, there's an argument to be made for serving out one's term, and another one for sticking to it with the idea of making changes from within. But there comes a time -- read: any moment during the Bush Administration -- when things are so obviously wrong, and the possibilities of being an effective counterweight so remote, that the only responsible thing to do is to speak up. Either resign with a bang, or refuse to be handled until you embarrass your handlers into tossing you overboard.

Thanks for your testimony, Dr. Carmona. Now go away, please.

Your Moment of McCain: 2007-07-10

It's a pity that "The Daily Howler" has already been taken, especially these days.

Consider the man who would be president, whose cronies often speak of him as the best qualified, having the most experience, etc. How about this for evidence of executive skills, like awareness of the state of the organization he's supposed to be running?

Although Mr. McCain's problems have been apparent for months -- he shook up his staff and promised to run a leaner operation after a disappointing fund-raising performance in the first quarter -- aides said the full scale of his difficulties only became clear to him toward the end of last month.


He's not even in office yet and he's already in The Bubble? The only possible explanation for this is that we have yet another top Republican who doesn't read newspapers.

Well, I suppose another explanation is that his staff is lying. But that couldn't happen, right?

Caption Contest

The following is a cropped version of a picture taken by Manuel Balce Ceneta. The picture appeared alongside a WaPo story. I got to the story by following a Brando link.

Brando can bring the funny (see this one, too) even when sweltering; me, not so much. Therefore, I throw it open to you.

Using the Comments, nominate a caption for this picture:

You can beat these, surely:

1. Who wants to go back to Albania?

2. The President responds to the question, "How many people could Scooter have brought to jail with him if you didn't pardon him?"

Ahead of the Curve

(In which your host pats himself on the back for bringing you the news just a little bit earlier, once again)

This past May, I noted a new (to me) NPR program called RadioLab. Looks like Ira Glass is just catching up on my blog: last weekend's edition of This American Life featured an excerpt from one of RadioLab's shows. (Don't miss the rest of the TAL show, BTW. More hard truth from Iraq.)

Bow down to my cutting edginess. Bow down!

Of course, if the reason that you didn't check out RadioLab the last time I mentioned it is because you can't bear the thought of dealing with audio files via computer, then I guess all of the helpful links provided in this post aren't going to be of much interest, either.

And the fact that I'm flaunting familiarity with the latest NPR doings is doubtless wreaking havoc with the decidedly neutral stance that have taken pains to adopt whenever discussing political issues.

Credibility plummeting. End transmission.

Cool! (I Guess.)

Two stories from the latest edition of the NetworkWorld 360 podcast:

First, an inadvertent version of Robin Hood: Thieves are now verifying the active state of stolen credit cards by first making small donations to charitable organizations. The idea here is that you can test a card without tripping the software safeguards that the credit card companies use to watch for unusual spending patterns. The test-by-donation system is now so widespread that one can visit a site, type in a stolen card's number, and have it automatically make a donation and return verification of success. (full text of story)

Second, the management of botnets is now presenting costs significant enough to make it worthwhile for one botnet wrangler to invest in malware to take down zombie computers wrangled by the competition. I'm not sure of the motivation; maybe it has to do with preserving plentiful grazing for one's own herd. A modern version of mob turf wars, to stretch the analogy to the point of pain. (Details on page 3 of this story.)

NetworkWorld is, of course, a magazine aimed at people managing IT infrastructure, which means that it is supported by advertisers interested in selling security systems to these readers. Nonetheless, the full reading of the above stories makes one tempted to run off and live in a cave somewhere. Oh, wait.

Podcast info for NetworkWorld here.

Fun With Google Earth

Here are a couple of tidbits that you may already know about, but were new to me.

First, it appears that the Dark Overlord of the Entire Universe, aka Dick Cheney, has managed to get the area around the official residence of the Vice President blurred out. Clicking this link should open Google Earth and take you to the location in question. If that doesn't work, just open Google Earth yourself and search for "us naval observatory." Set your altitude to about 3300 feet to start, and then zoom in. Compare the resolution with the surrounding area, or, say, by viewing the results of a search on "white house."

Second, forget about the face on Mars. We have a way better one here on earth. Here is the direct link. If it doesn't work, just copy and paste the following string (which represents the lat-lon coordinates) into Google Earth: 50 0'44 N 110 6'60 W

Again, set your altitude to about 3300 feet to start, if that doesn't happen automatically. (My version of Google Earth tends to an altitude of 3281 feet, which as every schoolboy and girl knows, is 1000 meters. Proof of the World Government Conspiracy, without a doubt.)

Amazing, in opposite ways.

Please let me know how clicking the links worked. Thanks.

Don't have Google Earth? Get it here.

Hat tip to the The Daily Show and The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe for the tidbits.

Off and Ghana

In case you haven't noticed the updated sidebar, my cousin Kathy has started a blog called "Off and Ghana" to describe her trip to Africa. She has safely landed and begun her adventures, it says there.

Glad to hear you made it all right, Kath. Keep the posts coming!

Wait, Are You Talking to Me on a Cellular Phone?

(You probably remember that classic line from Pulp Fiction.)

I was reminded of Lance's annoyance with Vincent by a fascinating article on IEEE's Spectrum Online, which describes how Greece's cell phone system was severely compromised a few years ago. Details are still emerging, although the basic story has been out for a while. Apparently, someone with access to the central switch computers at the phone company added modifications to the system software. These modifications allowed all calls made on some specific phones to be copied, in effect, to other phones. It appears that quite a few government officials' phone conversations were thus available to a third party, probably for about a year.

John Markoff has a short summary, for those less interested in the details, but the full article is well worth reading, both for the historical and technical aspects. One particularly fascinating bit:

Modern GSM systems, such as Vodafone's, secure the wireless links with a sophisticated encryption mechanism. A call to another cellphone will be re-encrypted between the remote cellphone and its closest base station, but it is not protected while it transits the provider's core network.

Clearly, this decryption and re-encryption is in place to support phone tapping in general. Presumably, this is sometimes a legitimate thing to do.

Political snark aside, I also recommend the full article for its examination of the issues involved once the intrusion was detected. Many have criticized Vodaphone's immediate responses. On the other hand, there were clear desires to keep the system running and to secure the phones belonging to the Prime Minister, et al. The authors argue that a tendency to look for scapegoats in cases like this tends to worry the potentially liable party -- the phone company, in this case -- about fallout, and thus, motivates it to reach for quick fixes. The fixes in this case alerted the crooks and also destroyed much of the forensic data.

The authors' point of view here is a bit blue-sky, but their stance is nonetheless well worth considering. Given how everything is increasingly implemented through software these days, and given that the software is ever more complex, the creation of the software is ever more distributed, and connections between systems are ever more networked, we're in a position of truly all being in this together. I'm not saying we should completely do away with accountability, but I agree with their basic thesis that we need to evolve to a cooperative attitude of solving problems, rather than concentrating on finding someone to blame.

Of course, there is that problem about human beings evolving.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Blog Disclaimer of the Day: 2007-07-09

Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.
-- Bob Park

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Link Slutting

Partly out of curiosity, I am posting this to see if Mr. Hitchens's site will pick it up. (There is a page which represents those who link to that site.)

That aside, I've lately become enamored of Mr. Hitchens, as you might already know. So, I'm really linking to his home page because he's a good man, and I'm happy to hear (segment 2) that he has become an American citizen.

But back to his site. Here is a fun audio link, swiped from his site. Ignore the tiresome host of the program, and wait for the moments when Mr. Hitchens answers the callers-in and the other guests. Pure gold.

BTW, the link to the Hannity & Colmes appearance is hardly worth watching. Unless you're like me, and need reasons to be reminded of why you don't pay for cable, and further, think that Hannity & Colmes both are in desperate need of enhanced interrogation.

In Depends Day

Today is 7/7/07, as others have pointed out. Somehow, I don't feel so lucky.

I thought about posting today, solely to propose renaming the 4th of this month "Memorial Day." The day the Constitution died? But no. We remember birthdays, not death days, of the important ones. Too bad. Almost had a pop music tie-in there.

Anyway, I have to think that one of the main reasons that I do nothing lately is the sad state of the country I used to love. For example: the current VP.

I am getting email from the groups you might expect, urging me to "click here" to support impeachment of Dick Cheney. If there was ever a guy whose ass needed to get hauled in front of Congress and TV, his is it. Yet, somehow, I am disinclined to support this movement. Mostly my reasons are pragmatic, as they were when I argued against impeaching Bush, and they can be summed up thus: be careful what you wish for.

Let's stipulate that we could make the first few steps, and actually get this motion through a Congress composed of 49.9% Republicans who have abandoned all pretense at rational thought, and 50.1% Democrats who seek only a stance which translates to "Man, just don't let me screw up before Nov 2008." (None of what I ask you to pretend here would actually ever happen, of course, but just play along.)

So, we've gotten the first round of votes to pass, and we're now at the point of a Cheney trial of sorts. Immediate consequences? Ramp up the right wing spin machine, and hear endlessly of witch hunts, and of the amazingly non-ironic let the President do his job. The sound bites quickly devolve to Democrats love terrorists, further to the obvious godless, and leave us not forget: treason. You know the drill. Ultimately, we witness the further bifurcation of US.

Suppose further that we get the bastard, and let's even indulge in the idea that his sorry ass gets hauled off to jail. We[t] dream, right?

Now what?

Now what is this: Bush appoints some other wingnut as the replacement VP. Leaving aside just how much worse current policy becomes, we have this further worry: said wingnut immediately becomes the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party in 2008. (My guess would be Fred Thompson.) Immediately, this guy gets cred, at least among the MSM and the rest of the mouthbreathers. Suddenly, we have gone from a race in which the only worry is that the Democrats will find a nine sigma way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory to one where the contest is a toss-up.

As I have rued before, it's an awfully sad state to find oneself in the position where one's argument is to preserve the status quo. But I think that's where I'm at. Like so many others, my attitude is just to hang in there for the next 18 months: Better to have an known evil quantity to run against than to risk the anointing of a putative clean slate successor.

Happy Birthday, America.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I'm OK, You're OK

Nice to have one's paranoia confirmed, isn't it?

Courtesy of David Pogue and the Circuits newsletter of 5 July 2007:

As longtime Pogue's Posts readers know, my biggest cellular pet peeve is the endless recording you hear when you reach someone's voicemail: "To page this person, press 2 now. You may leave a message at the tone. When you finish recording, you may hang up. Or press 5 for more options"- and so on.

At the conference, I asked one cellular executive if that message is deliberately recorded slowly and with as many words as possible, to eat up your airtime and make more ARPU [Average Revenue Per User] for the cell carrier. I was half kidding - but he wasn't fooling around in his reply: "Yes." The secret's out.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Move Over, Jeanne Dixon!!!

As I predicted, several months ago, Scooter's not going to jail.

And please, save your sputterings that it's not a pardon for the mouth-breathers who watch Fox.

Which reminds me. I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul airport yesterday, and there I saw a Fox News store. On the wrong side of the security checkpoint, unfortunately. And I didn't even have my TV-B-Gone.

P.S. The title of this post was an inside joke for someone who, I am sad to report, has stated that she will never, ever, read my blog.


2007-07-14 16:02 EDT

Further evidence that brevity is the sole of wit. I bow down:

Typically, sentences do not commute. But sometimes they do. Consider:
Scooter is a liar.

Liar is a scooter.
-- Sean Carroll, in a post titled "An Abelian Perjurer"