Saturday, December 31, 2005


I gave my 9 year old, 3rd grader son a copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for Christmas. He has already consumed it. So, perhaps the entire boxed set of books should have been purchased. The books aren't expensive, but they are cheaper all at once rather than one at a time.

Perhaps the book should have been called The Wardrobe, the Witch, and the Lion, as that is the order that they appear in the story. Would that have been written by Lewis S. C.? Clearly, the writer wanted the lion to get top billing, rather than a box.

This particular purchase was inspired by the newly released movie by the same name. It could be pointed out that this isn't the first time the book has been made into a movie, just the first big budget production.

I had never read the books, but had read some other C. S. Lewis works, and had some idea what it might be about. So, though my 9 year old started reading it first, i borrowed it while he slept and finished it off. When he was finished with it, we saw the movie together.

It should be noted that the book isn't that long. In fact, it is about the same length as a screenplay. So, there is no need for the movie to cut anything. And, they didn't. They did add some explicit background at the beginning explaining why the kids were sent away that wasn't in the book. They added an exciting river scene as well. There were a small number of other minor changes.

One change made for the movie was that Aslan, the king lion, is supposed to be frightening as well as good in the book. Yet, no one is obviously scared out of their wits, even when seeing him for the first time. That certainly could have been done in the movie. Perhaps they wanted a true G rating. That's probably why the battle scene has so little violence and no gore at all. Compare that with The Return of the King. This is a choice, probably made for monetary reasons, but welcome for parents of smaller children who want to provide some entertainment for their kids.

As a modern, high budget film, the special effects were mostly excellent. We've come to expect this, and perhaps are spoiled. So, when they use a real dog and just animate the mouth for speaking, it looks so old school. This film has lots of talking animals. And, kids love that sort of thing, for no apparent reason.

The book/movie combination is a great combination. It is an opportunity for parents to read the book to their smaller children before letting them see the movie. For parents of slightly older children, promising to show them the movie after they've read it is a powerful incentive. The combination has special powers to improve reading enjoyment and comprehension, not just for this story, but for stories to come. I've followed this strategy with the first four Harry Potter Movies, when I read the book aloud. This is the first story where my son could reasonably read the book himself.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What I Don't Like About The Web

Web pages seem to be created by web designers and web developers using local network bandwidth, brand new high end computer hardware, with the latest web browsers that are loaded with every imaginable plug-in. Web pages seem to be never tested in any other environment.

For users at businesses, high speed network connectivity with hardware that is three years old or less seems to be the norm. These users often put up with slow pages, but the web sites often at least work.

One should be able to use Netscape 3.1 on my 1987 vintage Mac II, with my 2400 BAUD external modem, and pages should come up quickly. OK, so the real time kids games won't happen. Also, it doesn't matter that movies would take forever to download. The '87 Mac won't show them anyway, despite the fact that Quicktime was originally written on the 1987 Mac II. A 16.7 MHz 68020 just doesn't have the horsepower for full screen movies, without regard to video acceleration. For that matter, it takes an eon just to decode and display a full screen jpg image. Still, one ought to be able to read text with a few pictures without the thing locking up, requiring a reboot. I should be able to connect to my bank without Java, Javascript or Flash, and get my balance, and make simple transfers. And next year, one should not have to upgrade my computer, operating system, and browsing software just to do it. Netscape 3.1 understands forms, images and styled text. That's where almost all the content on the internet that is at all interesting is still.

OK, maybe 19 years is too much backward compatibility. The web isn't even that old. Perhaps it is amazing that such a machine could ever surf. But ten years isn't out of the question. That puts the bar at 1996. The web existed then. Any browser built back then that can cope with styled text, images and forms should be fine. In particular, Lynx is text only. It knows how to ignore styled text, and images, and handles forms. I can't use it with my bank, because it does not handle Javascript. Yet, my bank ends up using simple forms to actually allow account balances and transfers. Lynx is good enough to show the article about newly discovered rings around Uranus. Laugh if you like. This is content.

While we're at backward compatibility, consider PDF documents. One should not post PDF documents that absolutely require the most recent version of the acrobat reader. In particular, I shouldn't have to upgrade to the new version, because zero cost isn't zero cost. Adobe has started inserting adware into their free readers, and on a slow modem, it still takes roughly forever to download the new version. Further, most people on the internet are incompetent to install anything properly. That's right. Most people do not upgrade their computers in any significant way. They either get a friend who is competent to do it for them, or they don't upgrade. Richer people actually buy a new machine when it gets infected with malware, and abandon the old stuff to their basements. I'm not making this up. The upgrade and install burden becomes huge for the competent. Perhaps I should start charging. I don't want a shrubbery. Perhaps pizza.

So, here's an offer. Point me to your web site. I'll test it with Netscape 3.1, 4.7, Netscape 6.x, Lynx, and a couple versions of Firefox. I'll also test with a 33 MHz 486 with 16 MB RAM on a 2400 BAUD modem. Not only that, but I'll test with the '87 Mac II on a 14.4 KBAUD modem. All on a slow modem. My modem is 56K BAUD, but my SBC, sorry, AT&T, (it is hard to keep up with this merger nonsense thing too), phone line is so poor, that 5600 BAUD is not possible. Mostly, 28.8 KBAUD is all i get. I'll tell you in no uncertain terms what is wrong with your site, and all you need to do is send me $100. Cheap.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

State Of Fear

Part of the danger of reading several books at the same time is that more than one can be finished in a short period. So it is now. At random, then, this is a review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Only a few of the books in the works are dead trees, and this one was an audio book, checked out of the local library, and consumed, mostly, on the way to or from work.

The plot revolves around global warming, ecoterrorism and related topics. A significant amount of science is bandied about. All of the standard tricks for making a point in science (even when the point is out and out wrong) were used, and many were explained. The author argues from an unpopular point of view, namely, that Global Warming isn't a threat, that it is ill defined and, by the way, evidence for it is difficult to come by. The idea seems to be to make the reader uncomfortable. If that goads the reader into learning some real critical thinking, and perhaps even doing some real research, perhaps this is a good thing. However, The Andromeda Strain, and Jurassic Park were more enjoyable. At least in these books, one could easily tell where the science ends and the fantasy starts.

There was also a break in the suspension of disbelief. One of the characters was supposed to be a mega genius and expert in a variety of fields, including computers. This happens to be an area of expertise for me. The expert just didn't get it. Honey pots and Trojan horses were particularly badly mishandled. These items were not critical to the plot, and proof reading by someone who uses computers for something other than just word processing could have improved the narrative significantly. If the expert wasn't very good with computers after all, then perhaps he wasn't competent in other areas. Without competence, the whole thrust of the novel unravels. Come to think of it, computers weren't handled all that well in Jurassic Park. Perhaps this proof reading thing will have merit in the future as well.

On the positive side, now that the name has been pronounced by an actor, I can, with confidence say that I know how to pronounce Michael Crichton's name. It is pronounced Michael Crichton.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Intelligent Intelligent Design

I've finally gotten through reading an interesting blog on Intelligent Design at Carl Zimmer's The Loom. Carl starts it off by quoting someone name David, and responding. The rest follows.

In it, someone named John A. Davidson explains his Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis (PEH), which says that evolution happened at one time, but has stopped. In particular, PEH predicts that no new information is added to genomes, only subtraction is possible. Presumably, this allows for a creator to have put all the information into the DNA of all species, but no further information will ever become available. This is a testable hypothesis, and is the first I've encountered from the Intelligent Design group.

Unfortunately, John A. Davidson states the evidence that would be required for PEH to be falsified, which just isn't how science works. He suggests that one would have to find a mammal species that is new since historic times. Such a species would be considered new if hybrids between it and a related species produces sterile offspring.

With this criteria, one would not expect John A. Davidson, who says he's had that name since 1928, to survive long enough for the evidence he seeks to become available. He asks for hard work. And, if restricted to working with mammals, it could take a very long time.

I haven't read John A. Davidson's published papers. Still, it seems odd that he presents no evidence for offering this hypothesis. Evolution appears in the fossil record, and is shown to take a long time. One wouldn't expect much speciation in the relatively short span of human history, even from a large pool of species. Since absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it seems clear that something more convincing is required. After all, since the fossil record indicates continuing evolution for the entire history of life on Earth, it seems odd that it would come to a stop in modern times, just for humans to witness. What, exactly, is the proposed mechanism? Well, that there is a Designer, who designed all life, and has stopped working at it. If true, and there is no evidence that it is, what evidence is there that the Designer has stopped designing?

There was a complaint on the blog on why only mammals are considered, to no response. Mammals typically have long generations. For example, humans require nearly 20 years for a generation. Microbes have been shown to adapt to new hostile environments in just 600 generations. But that would require 12,000 years for humans, which makes it unlikely that speciation would happen in the small window made available. Now, many bacteria divide asexually, which has not been shown to generate new genetic information as quickly. And, you can't call the new bacteria a species, and certainly not with the reproductive test proposed. For asexual bacteria, each individual with a mutation can be thought of as a new species. Scientists don't do that, as it isn't a very useful definition. Also, 600 generations yields small changes, and no one would consider the result as a new species.

So, when sea snakes were proposed as a newly recent species, it was ignored.

Dogs and cats were dismissed, too. Dogs were dismissed as wolves. However, wolves may just be feral dogs. Recent evidence suggests a northern Mongolian wild dog species as the origin of domesticated dogs. Is there any hybridization information?

Yet, a paper on gerbils (later referred to as voles) was proposed, and it looks as if it should be a nail in the coffin for this hypothesis. It looks to be time to admit it, and move on to another hypothesis.

Yet the lid should be closed only by showing that there is indeed new useful information produced for the genome of some organism. This wasn't discussed. At least for microbes, every time a microbe becomes resistant to some new antibiotic, one could argue that new useful information is gained. One must, however be careful that it isn't just old information that was turned off, and is now switched back on. So, the critter should be sequenced before the experiment begins, and when it becomes resistant, it should be sequenced again. We might even learn what allows the resistance, which could be quite valuable. Perhaps this has been done.

As a computer nerd who has worked with very simple genetic algorithms, it is pretty clear to me that new information can be generated by simple mutation. Genetic algorithms are very good at searching for solutions to problems. One only needs a test for goodness of a solution. The more sensitive the test, the more efficient the search. The solutions represent new information in the genome.

Yet life doesn't just use random mutation. The complexities are numerous. For example, genetic information can be moved from one species to another by viruses. Also, since DNA operates at the molecular level, it has access to the molecular machine. It appears to be able to find novel ways to interpret the genetic information available, by altering the interpreter. My computer doesn't do that, because I didn't tell it to.

The complexity of life puts the Evolution debate out of the depth available in the thinking of popular culture. It is desirable that reliance on some authority is poor, so what it takes is an experiment anyone could perform at home with inexpensive equipment, in kit form. Ideally, one could put methane, argon, and some other gunk in a sealed test tube, heat it, cool it, zap it with electricity, etc., and in a few days at most, life would exist, where there was none before. And, this life would be detectable unambiguously. Anyone could do it. And even this would be an incredible stretch for popular culture. Since such an accessible experiment won't be available any time soon, the popular culture is effectively shut out of any such debate. Since it appears that the Intelligent Design debate is squarely pointed at popular culture, and lacks the depth needed for science, that it was never intended to be or become science.

One last point. In the referenced blog, there is some name calling. It starts soon in the blog, but no one took the bait. At post 17, John A. Davidson refers not to Darwinism, but NeoDarwinism as the rival hypothesis. This is quite an insult for someone born in 1928, but probably not for anyone much younger. It refers to Eugenics, with all the racial prejudice and such, and which was used by the Nazis to justify the slaughter of millions in gas chambers. Nice. This was John A. Davidson's second post to this thread, and no one had yet responded to his first. So, it was an unprovoked personal attack. There are actually two attacks here. The second is that he uses the word Darwinism as an ideology. But Darwinism isn't an ideology. Science isn't based on faith, it is based on evidence.

If one edits out the name calling and follows the scientific arguments, there does seem to be real value here. Some of the more subtle Intelligent Design arguments are presented and refuted. One might post such an edit, but one would be in constant fear of misrepresenting someone. For myself, the content is good, but not worth that much effort and risk.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


With no crisis at home last night, thoughts drifted over dinner on what should be done to consume the evening. There would be nearly three hours to kill. That's long enough for a movie, and it would be well deserved, given the spate of must-do-it-now tasks that have consumed my waking time for the past week or two. Time for a fun job.

My new car (it's new to me) arrived with the front bumper hanging not quite right with hastily applied bailing wire. It was my bailing wire and tools, though someone else performed the task. The car is in the garage already, and this task doesn't require the engine to cool first, so the task can start right away. One thing that makes the task potentially fun is that though it has been on my TO DO list for some time (really, it would have been more comfortable to do this task in August or September than wait until chilly December), the job was never really very high on the priority list. It isn't a safety issue, it's cosmetic - at least, that was the theory.

Now it should be noted that all the really successful car repair tasks have required that some injury is exacted. It's best if blood is drawn. It helps, too, if some muscles or other are in agony for days. That's my experience. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but frequently, if there was no injury, then the repair will require more attention soon. So it is that complete success can be reported due to the chunk of flesh gouged out of my left thumb. Oh, happy day.

So it may be perhaps surprising, but this task was begun with some giddy anticipation. This kind of activity is really quite enjoyable, more or less. A fun job indeed.

The first step was to inspect the damage. After a cursory inspection, it was concluded that to do a better job, the bailing wire needs to be cut. This was done with some reluctance. Cutting it means that the car is no longer drivable, and it has been in use as my commuting vehicle for about a week now. However, my previous car still runs, though it requires considerable repair also. One of the things it needs is a cabin heater blower, so there is little heat, and it is December in Michigan, after all. Still, it is available should this task remain unfinished before bedtime. So with as much courage as could be mustered, the wire was cut. The wedding bells are now audible, my marriage to this job is consummated.

The bumpers on this 2000 Saturn SL are really a fairly thin plastic veneer covering the somewhat more substantial impact point. The idea appears to be to use cheap and easily replaceable parts that will absorb impact energy. The main absorbing material is styrofoam. In an real accident, this bumper will need to be replaced (that is, if the car isn't totaled). So the up side is that replacement won't cost that much. The down side is that any little fender bender may require full replacement. It is not a five mile per hour bumper. This may be news. The US law requiring that bumpers be able to survive five mile per hour impacts was passed with much fanfare. However, it was rescinded without much fanfare. As a guess, most people probably think that a mild impact won't cause any damage to their vehicles.

With the wire cut, the right side of the bumper hung mostly to the floor. There were four plastic screws holding the bumper up in the middle of the car, and they were removed in just a few seconds. The rear bumper was recently fixed, which uses the same sort of fasteners, so my experience accelerated this task. With these removed, the whole right side of the bumper was on the floor. This exposed the styrofoam impact material. Though there is evidence of a front impact, it appears that it was minor, and the impact material is intact and fully functional. It is good to know this. Were it compromised, it would have to be replaced. This is a safety issue, after all. The plastic veneer is not, though it may be aerodynamic and aesthetic. This information might not have made it to me if someone else performed the job.

A further inspection of the veneer shows that it there used to be four plastic screws holding it to the vehicle on the underside. Also on the underside are three attachment points with bolts. There were also four plastic screws holding the right side on, and a metal plate with two bolts securing it to the frame. The plate is gone, along with the bolts. They might have been torn from the vehicle. Yet, the front damage was so slight, that it is possible that the plate was removed manually. Most of the screw holes have been torn through, so even if the screws were available, they wouldn't work. There is also a large tear in the plastic of the right wheel well. The only usable connection is the center underside bolt. Everything else will require a jury rigging somehow.

The center bolt was easy to remove and secure. A jack was used to prop up the bumper while the rest of the task proceeded. The emerging strategy was to cut small holes with a drill, and use bailing wire to tie it to whatever is handy. This worked quite well. A couple of attempts had to be retried, as bailing wire becomes somewhat brittle when twisted too much. Several new techniques were explored, with varying degrees of success. The large tear was repaired with four stitches of wire, for example. These stitches in the inside of the wheel well are the only really visible uses of bailing wire. The job mostly looks professional. Most of the repairs appear to be at least as secure as the original fasteners. The bumper was quite snugly attached on the right side. The missing metal plate wasn't replaced, so this was the most worrisome part. All in all, a good job, with a total cost of $0.00.

The total task exceeded the available time by an hour. That just means that bed time was pushed back by that much. This was worth it, as the job was finished, leading to some satisfaction. Besides, it would be available for the morning commute, and the thick frost on the other car would not have to be scraped off. Yet, there still was a lingering negative feeling, which took a few minutes to identify. And my wife is entirely to be blamed for it. On multiple occasions after finishing such a task, she would complain with a litany of other tasks that went undone. It was as if my time was wasted on this task instead of others. Demoralizing doesn't cover this attitude. Even though this behavior was stopped entirely over a year ago, the long term damage is done. It was the gift that keeps on giving. Here's the real damage. Rather than perform this task which gives me real pleasure, and which turns out to be vital to the running of the house, i'm often so depressed, i'd rather do nothing of value so that i'm not wasting my time, not doing some other task. Feh. There are many fun things one could be doing at any given time in life, and you are missing most of them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Chicken and Egg

Which came first, the Chicken, or the egg? When i a little kid, and was asked that question, i answered fairly quickly - the egg. My reasoning then was that chickens are likely a relatively modern species, and that there were likely older species that you wouldn't call chickens that laid eggs.

Of late, a new Archaeopterix fossil, with a well preserved foot, strongly suggests that birds are descendant from dinosaurs, with much less possibility that they predate dinosaurs - perhaps being completely missed in the fossil record. The foot isn't a modern bird style perching foot with a hind toe that points backwards. It looks more like a dinosaur foot, which leaves something for birds to evolve on their own. In any case, if dinosaurs came first, then since they laid eggs, the egg came before all birds, not just chickens. That's what i suspected when i was a little kid. Now i've seen evidence that my hypothesis was correct.

Note - i prefer to say that the evidence suggests rather than i believe, if for no other reason than that if better evidence becomes available, i can say that i wasn't wrong given the evidence available, its just that the new evidence is better, and, no, i haven't changed my mind, i've always tried to use the best evidence. Also, i'd like to think that i'm trying to learn science, rather than just religion. Science isn't a matter of faith. In my opinion, scientists don't believe in Evolution, the evidence suggests (demands) that this theory is correct. While there could be a theory that fits the evidence better, none has been suggested. The nay sayers might say, Evolution is just a theory, however, in science, a theory has lines of reasoning, but also a body of evidence that supports it. A hypothesis is the thing that just has the lines of reasoning. So, the nay sayers are suggesting that Evolution is just a hypothesis, which is silly. Evolution is more like gravity. It doesn't speak, but commands attention.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

With Malice, toward none

I mentioned that I'd been doing some reading on Intelligent Design over lunch. I said that I hate to refer to these people as ID'ers, because they aren't the designer(s) in question.

The reaction was "nor are they intelligent". Also, "Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity."

My reply was that at least one ID'er was obviously very careful, and managed to use, on average, more than one specious argument (pun intended without apology) per sentence. It's hard to even know where to begin to argue with it. With someone that smart, concluding malice is unavoidable.

To which, the guys said, "Well, then, they're dammed to Hell."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

End User License Agreement

I'd heard this some time ago as a Swedish joke. Its really a Stupid joke, rather than a slam on any nationality. There is no attempt here to make it generic. Generic jokes end up like this:

Ethnic #1 goes to her Rabii...

On with the joke.

Ollie visits Sven, who is busy in the back yard sawing wood with a cross cut saw. Ollie says to Sven, "Sven, that looks like hard work. Why don't you get a chain saw?" So Sven goes to Sears & Robuckson and buys a chain saw. Later Sven is talking to Ollie. "That chain saw is no good. Its even more work than the cross cut saw. I'm going to return it." Ollie is amazed and says, "Sven, you've got to show me this chain saw. They're wonderful. There's no way it won't save you work." So the next day Ollie visits Sven and Sven shows Ollie the unit. Ollie says, "It looks like a good one to me". He picks it up and pulls the chord. The chain saw roars to life. Sven says, "What's that noise?"

When people purchase new stuff, a computer, an iPod, a child's toy, they often come to me with questions on how to get some feature to work. These are people who see me pick up some item and make it do something they've never seen it do. They figure i'm some sort of technology genius, and figure i know everything. By the time they ask questions, the documentation, which has never been opened, is gone - misplaced or even thrown out. Sometimes the item has been partially disassembled, with parts missing. They expect me to fix it. Its really frustrating, as its often something i've never seen before.

When i ask for the documentation i sometimes get puzzled looks. "Nobody reads that stuff". And i reply that i even read the Warranty and License Agreements.

I'm not a lawyer, so maybe i don't get all the nuances out of the License Agreements. Most of them say that you must agree that the seller is absolved of any liability stemming from your use of the product, within the limits established by local law (which may not absolve them of any liability at all). Typically these License Agreements only pertain to software aspects of the product. Software is treated differently from other works of engineering. Why is that?

One reason is that software makers demand it. Software is hideously complicated, and errors are difficult to detect and impossible to avoid. The software that guides the Space Shuttle into space is thought to have around 50 errors. One might expect that if such a thing is known that every effort would be expended to find these bugs and fix them, so that we don't lose a multi billion dollar orbiter and seven astronauts. The fact is that the bug count is an estimate. There is no direct evidence for any of these bugs. And every expense has been spent looking for them - something like $10,000,000,000. Even Microsoft does not have enough money to eradicate every bug from Windows. If Windows had to be bug free in order to go on the market, it wouldn't go on the market. Hence the demand to be exempt from liability.

Why is software so hard to make error free? Well, for one thing, its more complicated than any other engineering task. A 747 has something like 10,000,000 fasteners. But most of these look like each other, with only dozens of different kinds. In contrast, software consisting of a million lines of code would have a dozen routines acting like glue, which would be called many times throughout the rest of the code. Very few sections of the code would look like other sections. So there are tens of thousands of modules, all of which may interact in odd ways with every other module. The 747 is looking pretty simple by comparison.

Software entities are more complex for their size than perhaps any other human construct because no two parts are alike. If they are, we make the two similar parts into a subroutine -- open or closed. In this respect, software systems differ profoundly from computers, buildings, or automobiles, where repeated elements abound. - Fred Brooks

The great Fred Brooks is one of the most ignored luminaries in the practice of computer science. Very sad, really.

So, how do you protect yourself from buggy software? Easy. Buy simpler devices. The number of bugs appears to grow with the size (complexity) of the code. Simpler is better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thinking is Fundamental

Fundamentalism hampering global climate change efforts

I'd say that words fail me on this, but i'll plow forward anyway. Even a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, including Genesis and New Testament references, make it clear that humans are given the stewardship of the Earth. Just as the King of a country can cause significant damage, and therefore has management duties, people clearly have a responsibility. If nothing else, it does not make sense to piss in your own bed. So how resistance to stemming radical climate change can be justified is unfathomable.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Keep Your Computer Alive

A club that i belong to uses Excel to keep track of members, who had paid their dues, who hasn't, what bills have been paid, etc. Every year, we elect new officers, including treasurer. The bi-laws state that an individual can only hold an office for two years in a row. This cycles in new blood, and is, in general, a good thing.

Now, the new treasurer suggested a fairly minor change to reduce his work load. While that's a good thing, i suggested that it might be worthwhile for someone (me) to volunteer to write up some web based software that would automate some of the tasks. It should be a step up from Excel, anyway. Also, it might allow those of us in the club that don't use Windows to take on this job in the future. I got the strangest reaction. It was as if Windows, no matter what, was the ONLY software that could do the job.

Now, i get accused of being a Mac bigot, or Linux bigot, or Unix bigot all the time. When i mention that Windows is the only OS in common use that suffers from viruses and worms, the Windows bigots come out of the woodwork in defense. Look, get over it, it was just a fact. I don't run Windows at home, because, unlike work where there is a corporate firewall, a help desk, automated virus scanners with updates, and automated patching two or three times a month, and doing this for myself would take too long. I have a computer so i can do some computing. I run Linux because it is easily the most powerful, and i climbed the steep learning curve over twenty years ago. I had a Mac in 1987, when DOS ran on 286's. I never had any need for Windows at home.

I have gotten really tired of the Windows bigots. Perhaps i should just stop helping them when their machines get trashed. Don't ask me, just read my brother's book Keep Your Computer Alive. It's an easy read with entertaining cartoons, and will help you cope with your Windows system.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

See Saw

The other night as i was going to sleep, i heard a noise, which sounded as if it might be on the roof or in the attic. I opened the blinds on the window and waited a bit. The sounds continued above. Fairly heavy, too heavy for a squirrel, not heavy enough for a person. Probably a raccoon. Soon enough, i saw a raccoon climbing off the roof down the Eastern White Pine tree at the corner of the house. The tree was planted about two feet from the house, and now towered above the roof some dozen feet. Then, another raccoon climbed down after it. Very Cute.

In the morning, i looked briefly at the part of the roof visible from the ground. It appeared that there were a couple shingles loose. I thought that i'd have to climb out on the roof when i got home and do a thorough inspection, and possibly some repair.

While out at work, it started snowing. Great. White Thanksgiving. Where's Global Warming when you need it? Not in Michigan.

Thanksgiving day is a holiday - a day off for me. So, out comes the stepladder and saw. First, the top of the tree is removed. That's enough to stop the raccoons. Then the rest of the tree comes down. I count myself lucky that the tree didn't make my basement leak.

There aren't any power tools here, just a cross cut saw. Days later and my forearms are still so sore that i can barely type.

This year has been tough on the trees in my yard. The Emerald Ash Borers killed my front yard Ash trees. The city cut them down and hauled them off.

This summer, the moth infestation was finally defeated. They've been extirpated from the house.

Its not that i hate animals. Even the Ash Borers, which i never saw. My general rule is that only family and spiders are allowed in the house.

However, the turkey was delicious.

Monday, November 21, 2005


So, i'm teaching my eight year old how to use a dictionary. One of his books has the word gesticulate, so this was an example. One dictionary has to use gestures to help express ones meaning. Pardon me, but isn't gestures a form of the same root word? That's circular. So we looked up gestures, and got movement of the body to express ideas. So, gesticulate could have been movement of the body to express ones meaning. How hard is that?

So, then we looked up desperate, and got rash or violent because of despair. And despair is without hope. So, the entry could have been rash or violent because of hopelessness.

And it wasn't just one dictionary. It is as if all dictionaries are largely copied from each other. The first dictionary was poor because Daniel was pressed for time. He had to get the first edition out get make any money from it, and didn't have time to improve the entries. Later editions kept them because, well, it was good enough for the previous edition.

Feh. The status quo ensures mediocrity at best. I'm having a hard time selling the dictionary idea to my eight year old.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Cold symptom reduction

I'm really over this cold. It ends with this long, drawn out runny nose - post nasal drip. This leads to a persistent cough, which for me can be vigorous enough to cause persistent headaches.

So i went to the drug store to get a cough suppressant - an analgesic. It turns out that all medicines with psuedosendrin hydrochloride are now available by the pharmacist. This has something to do with making illegal drugs, though I don't see how this helps. The procedure is that you examine the cards, and take the one you want to the pharmacist. But all of the analgesics have psuedosendrin hydrochloride these days. Historically, this is the active ingredient in Contac. However, after using it once, it has had no effect on me. I don't know why this is the case, but it is. It no longer dries the sinuses, it doesn't make me drowsy - nothing. I had this idea that if i avoided it for a decade, that it might be of value again. However, though many of the drugs have other active ingredients, the all have this one, so if i want any, i can't avoid psuedosendrin hydrochloride.

I picked up some orange juice, because it was on sale, and went home. I was thinking a little wine might give me some relief, but i didn't have any. So i mixed up a screwdriver - OJ and vodka. I made it fairly weak. To my surprise, it was an excellent cough suppressant. I didn't make so much to make me dizzy, so i was able to get to sleep rapidly. In retrospect, it was one of the best cough suppressants i've had.

Niquil traditionally had a significant amount of alcohol. However, its pretty concentrated, and this detracts from the effect. And, unlike a screwdriver, it tastes terrible. I don't drink vodka that much, but it seems to me that screwdrivers are cheaper, too.

Its great for me, but would i give it to my 8 year old son?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Missing in action

The Kloves version skips my favorite scene, and lot of other stuff. Bagman and Dobby are gone, as previously mentioned. Also Winky, all the other house elves in the kitchen, S.P.E.W., Percy, Charlie, Bill, Molly, Peevse and all the ghosts (except Moaning Myrtle who does have a part), Mr. Ollivander, the Creevey brothers, Professor Sprout (despite being Cedric's Head of House), Professor Vector, Professor Trelawney, Madam Rosmerta and all of the Blast-ended Skrewts. Sirius is mentioned and speaks, but as for actually being there, not really, but Buckbeak isn't mentioned. Hogsmead was cut too. The twins got plenty of coverage, but no joke shop references. Hermione gets mad at Rita Skeeter, but doesn't get her revenge. The Marauder's Map is not in evidence as well. Nor is there even one mention of Hogwarts, a History.

Honorable un-mentioned is Madam Pomfrey and the hospital wing. Harry doesn't get any of his cuts treated, for example, after the first task. So, when they are in the Gryffindor common room celebrating, he still has all the cuts and such. Part of what makes this movie so scary is that the Tri-Wizard champions could get hurt, and could stay hurt. They didn't mention that there would be any precautions at all. Fleur must have been rescued, however, as she did not finish the second task. I didn't hear what Professor Dumbledore had to say about it for some reason.

The part about Harry's class learning the summoning charm was cut, which means that we didn't get to see Professor Flitwick flying across the classroom. That would have been funny, though there were plenty of humorous parts in the movie to make up for it.

One could go on for pages about what wasn't there. Well, in fact, screen plays are about 120 pages, and the book was 734 pages. So, one might be able to go on for about 500 pages... The book really is better.

Presumably, Kloves has already written The Order of the Phoenix, and they've started filming. Compression won't cover this task. 870 pages down to 120. This book has enormous amounts of non-visuals, which might be cut. Its probably the movie about which i'll know the least before watching it. It could go anywhere. It isn't that clear what is important. For one thing, what is important to the remaining books doesn't have to be important to the remaining movies. And, of course, i've not read book seven, as it isn't out yet. While we owe alot to The Chamber of Secrets, my guess is that book seven will owe alot to The Order of the Phoenix. But which bits?

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Movie

Saw the movie. There were many changes. There have to be changes. There is an enormous amount of compression required. It was nearly startling when a snippet of dialog was from the book. Mr. Bagman was gone altogether. Even Dobby made no appearance. Neville got more lines, though. The dragons were smaller, but the scene with Harry was lengthened. That was probably the only part that was expanded.

Oh, yes. My favorite scene from the book was cut. I expected that. And also, as expected, they could hardly have ruined the movie. However, my local theater made a stab at it. The right side of the screen was out of focus for the entire show. Right. They couldn't protect me from people's cell phones. But I don't want my best views of the show to be on my TV when the DVD comes out. That's not what I paid $8.50 for.

Yes, it was a great movie. Despite having read the book, uhm, four times, there were plenty of surprises.

A Sony of My Owny

I used to think that Intel, with its FDIV bug Pentium processor publicity nightmare, was the king of companies for shooting itself in the foot. I now own three original Pentium machines, complete with FDIV bug. Yet, Sony has clearly outdone them. This wasn't a bug. Sony had to go out of their way to inflict this kind of damage.

While Sony has offered to replace the CDs, not all customers will do it. I bought my Pentium machines used. They didn't inform me that they had the FDIV bug. They also didn't have the chips replaced when they used them. Many, many of these CDs will be out in the wild for a long time to come. CDs generally last longer than computer chips.

From their FAQ:

3. Some people contend that the software has the features of malware or spyware technology. Was this your intent?


Who cares what the intent was? That's for lawyers to decide. The consumer has to cope with it. The only reason to keep a CD rather than have Sony replace it is so that you have solid evidence for future litigation.

6. If my computer contains the XCP content protection software, how can I protect my system?

I would go with backing up my data files, and installing Linux. The restored data files will not be able to damage the Linux OS or compromise its security. Some would say that this is draconian. But I look at it as throwing out the festering puss ball with the bathwater.

10. What is SONY BMG doing about its future content protection initiatives?

Who cares? If they were willing to do this once, its not hard to imagine other evil things they may have considered or already enacted.

My discman died. Its unlikely that I will replace it with a unit from Sony. Sony is no longer one of my favorite companies. When Intel had their fiasco, I bought a Cyrix chip powered system. Now that the AMD chips are faster and cheaper than Intel's. its hard to imagine I'll ever buy Intel again.

An overview of the case so far.

Can 500,000 computers all be wrong?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


The New Testament book, Romans was written by Paul, a saint. Of note is Romans chapter seven, from about verse 15. The King James version has verse 19 as follows: For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Paul is talking about sin, but hits on a real sticky point of human nature in general. Of course! I'm an adult. If i want to do something, i do it! Right? Wrong. And it doesn't just have to do with sin. Sometimes i feel like watching TV, but i just can't get myself to do it. I have the time, the TV, a good DVD, the energy, but... maybe i'll start reading another book instead. No one and no thing is hurt here. It isn't sin.

And though Paul says he was talking about sin, he was really talking about himself. In every translation that i've seen, his grief comes through. He's grieving for his totally out of control, lost, and thoroughly frustrating existence.

And i grieve for him. He wasn't always exactly right, but when he was right like this, every mistake he ever made could be forgiven. You'll recall murder was part of his life before his conversion. There are hints that there were other things too. And i say, No big deal, Paul, thanks for the inspiration.

I've just finished reading a book called Speaker For The Dead, by Orson Scott Card. If you identify with any of the above, you'll love this book. Unfortunately, you'll have to read Ender's Game first. I found this book to be an insightful, deep, nontrivial book as well. But the two books aren't very similar. Even if you really like one, you may not like the other. My advise is this. If you think you'll like Speaker, then suffer through Ender's Game if you must, but get through it. Then, when you've finished Speaker For The Dead it will feel like a blessing. Speaker For The Dead goes well beyond Romans. One of my many reactions is, who is Card that he has something to add to Romans? One answer is also a question - Who does he have to be? Then, i thought, if Card adheres to the writing school: Write what you know, then all of a sudden, i don't want to know much about Card.

I, of course, liked both books.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Day three of this cold. I freely admit that while i did increase my water intake a little in the days just before the symptoms became obvious, it wasn't to the gallon a day megadose that really kicks a cold like this into oblivion. Really, its better than antibiotics. All right, i'm a small sample size, but when i've gone to the doctor to get antibiotics, and when i've just taken care of myself with lots of water, i've gotten better quicker with the water.

And, on the first real day - with the sore throat, i still didn't kick it into high gear. Now i know why. This thing was bound to become a head cold. The sinuses were bound to become clogged, and the pressure was bound to mount. Drinking all that water makes the sinuses go into overtime, dribbling all over. Who wants that?

Well, if i'd thought about it, i would. Getting over it in a couple days rather than letting it drag on for weeks or a month is worth a little discomfort.

The cure for the common cold is as follows.
  • drink a gallon of water a day
  • get plenty of sleep
  • eat, but avoid sugar
  • cover your head and neck for warmth
  • dental hygiene - floss, brush, gargle
  • if sore throat, gargle with salt, asprin, and/or Chloroseptic

By the way. I'm not against antibiotics. But unlike water, any particular antibiotic has a dramatically reduced efficacy after even the first use, at least for me. So, they have been of enormous value from time to time, but i'd like to think that there are some i've never used that will be there for me when i need them next. For example, when they removed my gangrenous gall bladder last year, it was likely antibiotics that allowed survival. As a guess, this incident would probably have been death had it happened fifty years ago, penicillin notwithstanding. So, the past fifty years of medical science has done alot for me.

By the way. We hear over and over that its the bugs that become resistant to antibiotics. While this is true, it appears that an individual can do the same. The analgesic Contac was great for me -- once. Now, even decades later, it as no effect. It does not dry me out. It does not make me drowsy. Not even a little. Not even if i take more than it says i should take. Its not true for everyone, and its not true for every medicine, probably for anyone.

The past fifty years has also increased my life expectancy by more than twenty years - possibly thirty. And that's just if one considers heart disease. I eat better and exercise more than i would if i were clueless. And when i'm seventy or so, they can give me bypass surgery, and i'll be OK to 100. This has been a real problem with my genetic family. So, science, which is all about noticing how things work, and then experimenting to see if the guesses are good, is a great thing, and i'm all about it. This is in stark contrast to Intelligent Design, or Scientology, which seem to be about putting your head up your ass.

While i'm not down on religion, it is becoming clear that some religions are better (and worse) than others. Intelligent Design, Scientology, and Fundamentalism in general all suffer from discouraging the faithful from doing any thinking. This is particularly hateful with fundamentalist Christianity, as Christ was all about making people think.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The First Task

OK, so The First Task is quite exciting. And, yes, i reread it an extra time or two for good measure, and when i read it to my seven year old, i used a bit of The Hungarian Horntail as a teaser to start things off. His reading has really taken off, now that he's eight, and reading really exciting stories to him is likely part of it. Yeah, he probably stayed up a little later for a few nights when we got to The First Task, but one of the results is that after doing homework (and often before) which is mostly reading, after all, he begs to take a break, so he can read one of his other books. Its very exciting.

A few weeks ago, i let him do pretty much whatever he wanted most of the weekend. He read a 197 page book. While its not a book i'd have wanted to read (i was never into ghost stories), its not one of the really easy books either. No pictures. And he spent five and six hours at a time on it. This is a great achievement for someone with a seven second attention span. Really, he must be in the top hundredth of the top percentile of distractability. Brilliant as he is, this is still three thousand times as much work as he can normally do without constant encouragement. OK, he had constant encouragement - but not from me. The book itself was compelling. That, and the great stories he has heard as written by people like Rowling. She's spent over twenty years on this project, and i'm grateful. There are those that want to know what she'll do after book seven. I'll be ecstatic when she finishes book seven, even though she's hinted all over the place on whats in it. For details, please see her collected works.

They talk about the Harry Potter Phenomenon. Kids just pick up the books and consume them. The last time there was anything remotely like it was probably The Lord of the Rings. I started it in forth grade. The Hobbit didn't take that long, but i lost some momentum in the trilogy proper. When i'd finished it, which might have been during high school, i recognized how good it was, and reread the entire series over a Christmas break. As good as The Lord of the Rings is, it hardly compares to Harry Potter. I've mentioned Ender's Shadow, also certainly among the best books ever written, in my humble opinion. But Harry is accessible to a younger crowd too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fourth Book

Well, i'm sick in bed, and having started the fourth Harry Potter book, and having not much else to do, i've continued reading it. I should mention that i always identified more with Hermione than with Harry. When i saw the first movie for the first time, this feeling was really quite strong. So strong that it had me worried that something was wrong with me. I mean, i'm alot older than my picture - you can see it in my profile. Its totally inappropriate for someone my age to have a crush on an 11 year old - no matter how cute she is.

Eventually, though, it dawned on me that i'd read the book first. It wasn't the cute actress, after all. It was Rowling's book that was so, uhm, enchanting. I had identified with Hermione because she's smart and wise and hard working, and, did i mention smart? Cute helps, but in the book, she's not supposed to be that cute - in fact, she has a little overbite - buck teeth. Fixed in the fourth book, courtesy of the contemptible Draco Malfoy. Did i mention i'm into irony? And ironic justice is the best.

In the wizarding world, knowledge is power - like time is money in the real world. Well, in my world, that is, computer programming, knowledge is power in exactly the same way. The more you know, the more control you have over computers. I mean, computers are perfect slaves - they'll do whatever you want - exactly, to the letter. But if you don't know how to tell them what to do, they can't do it.

Some of this knowledge is telling computers how to do things fast. Let's say that you want a computer to multiply two nine digit numbers together. Well, multiplication is repeated addition. If you have A times B, then you can add A to itself B times in a loop. Now, if you notice, the computer can add A to itself just about as fast as it can add B to itself. So, if A is bigger than B, adding B to itself gets the answer quicker than adding A. But if the smallest of A and B is 1,000,000,000 (because they're both 1,000,000,000) - then it could take a long time. On my computer, it takes about 1.2 seconds, when written in C. The answer is 1000000000000000000, of course. While 1.2 seconds doesn't seem like much, the amount of time increases with the size of the numbers. So, there are other methods that are much faster. One of these takes less than a thousandth of a second - which is to say, my computer performs it so fast that it can't easily measure how long it takes. While i know how to do it this way, my compiler also knows how to do it. Since i know the compiler is competent, i can save some of my time and effort by letting it do it. Naturally, this is a contrived example. But i like to think about these things. Yesterday, i clustered a 2,000,000 row table on my home computer, and reduced a query by a third - that is, it used to take about twenty minutes, and now it takes about thirteen minutes. My computer performs this every day, so it now saves about seven minutes a day. And, i learned a little doing the exercise.

So while reading the book, i remembered that i'd forgotten how often i want to slap Harry for doing something stupid or unwise. It probably won't be in the movie, but Harry is at one point in bed and thinks "Hagrid had a point... they were all right, really, dragons...". And this is after Harry meets one face to face, up close and personal, and was in a continuous panic for days beforehand. At least he'd learned about Rita, and when she asked him for a word, he wisely said, "Goodbye". It was one word, as asked, and very funny, too. So, Harry isn't totally brainless.

So, my favorite part of The Goblet of Fire isn't the chapter entitled The First Task, but rather The Weighing of the Wands. It starts out with Hermione meeting Harry with a stack of toast, so he doesn't have to go down to breakfast. And she says "Want to go for a walk?". Then she tells him what's wrong with Ron, and hands him parchment and a pen to write to his Godfather. So, she's smart, and wise, and kind, and cute, and did i mention smart? And at the end of the walk, Harry obviously should bow to her and profess his undying love - though he doesn't. A missed opportunity, to be sure, and not the first or last.

Its going to be a fabulous movie. There isn't that much they can do to ruin it. Oh, sure, they'll have to cut things. They may even cut my favorite scene. However, i still have the book, and though i'll soon have read it four times, its likely i'll read it again.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I started re-reading Book Four. You know, the movie is coming out soon. It struck me that its very funny. I'm talking about the opening at the Dursleys. Maybe i'm just imagining the story with the actors i've seen from previous movies. However, i had seen all three prior movies before my third reading of this book.

What it is is this: the Durselys are so sad that it has taken me this long to get over it and just laugh.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Seeing Spots

Seeing spots.

People forward all kinds of stuff my way. Most of it is junk. But perhaps one in a thousand such forwards is worth a look. This is one of those few.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trying even harder

It's not very busy, so, there i am, cruising down the highway, with the cruise control set to nearly 10 mph below the limit. Invariably, after a while, someone will slowly creep up and sit there in my blind spot. I know they're there, but i have to lean while looking in the rear view mirror, or actually turn around once in awhile to make sure. Its intimidating - more than tailgating. After a bit, they seem to understand that something is odd, and they speed up to pass. Fine. That's what I wanted, really. If they pass me, then i have the right of way, and they have to navigate it. But as often as not, after putting on a brief burst of speed, they then hang just in front of me, so that i'm in their blind spot. Its almost as if since they can no longer see me, it no longer matters. Out of sight, out of mind. After a couple minutes, they'll often sense that something is wrong, and plow ahead. Yet, being in someone else's blind spot isn't their fault - its mine. If they wait too long, i'll change my cruise setting. Either i'll kick it out for a bit, or coast down to an even slower speed. It just goes to show that if you work real hard, you can intimidate a cruise control after all.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Intimidate My Cruise Control

So, i'm coming home down i75 on cruise control. I have it set for the highest speed that will take me home without changing it. One of the right lanes is closed for construction, but i know no one is working on it. So, through construction, i'm going the fastest, as the local who drives this all the time, and i'm in the left lane. At the end of the construction zone there's a whole pack of drivers, many i just passed, that now want to floor it. There are a couple miles to my exit, and i'd start merging right, but the pack has already caught up, and impatiently passes me on the right. Fine with me. One driver gets himself boxed in behind me, and decides to tailgate me. He's so close that i can't see his headlights. When trucks do that, their headlights are higher and illuminate my entire cabin. But this bozo has a car, and his lights just disappear. My cruise control is not intimidated. The rest of the pack passes me on the right, without giving me a chance to merge. Then, this bozo takes his turn. There's my exit.

My car is 17 years old. It has a manual transmission. A trailer hitch sticks out the back. If i so much as disengage the cruise, this bozo would smack into my rear end. The hitch would ensure that it would be ugly. It could be thousands of dollars in damage. But not to my car, since it isn't worth that much. And, pretty much no matter what i did, it would be his fault. Further, i could hit a pothole, and it wouldn't even have been my choice. Why would anyone behave that way?

Really, tailgating, and especially extreme tailgating, is not the right of every driver. What it is, mainly, is stupid.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Treasure Island

I recently pulled my old palm pilot from a drawer and started using it again. The display's digitizer is painfully broken, but can be calibrated and made to work for a little bit. I abandoned it two years ago. However, Weasel mostly doesn't need the digitizer, you get to the next screen of text by using a scroll down button. So, i downloaded Robert Louis Sevenson's Treasure Island and read it.

Unlike many of the classics, which are classics because they are early presentations of an idea, this was actually well written. Magnificent. So, go to Project Gutenberg, download it, and read it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

One Pound Bimonthly Diet

I started a diet last spring. Its not very good. It promises that once every two months, you'll loose a pound. It doesn't promise that you'll keep it off. And, you can only do it about once every other month. Oh, it can also leave you tired for an afternoon.

I started giving blood. My employer lets me sign up for it via company email, gives me time off to do it, donates office space where it can take place, and even suggests that its a good thing to do. I get juice and cookies for free, which may be why I don't loose any weight for long.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ender's Shadow

I'm always looking for entertainment for my commute to work. My local library completely revamped their audio section recently. Most of the tapes are gone, and a completely new inventory of books on CD replaced it. I scanned it for science fiction. I had listened to the Star Wars and Star Trek tapes in the old collection. The timing is interesting. The tape deck in my car died, and i replaced it with an mp3 capable CD player.

The new collection has two interesting items. The first of the Dune prequels: The Butlerian Jihad, and Ender's Shadow. It turns out that neither of these are acceptable for my eight year old for use during long trips. Yet both are quite interesting. I'll leave off talking about the Jihad for when i've finished the series. There are two more 25+ hour books.

Ender's Shadow is powerful, deep, and dense. The fact that the first five chapters has the principal character basically starving to death, while i was on a diet only added to the effect. It wasn't hard to identify with a starving boy while, uhm, starving. Method reading isn't a requirement for enjoyment, however. You might be put off by the introductory starving segment. The street kid segment is pretty extreme. Though the violence gets much worse later, its just war, which we've all come to accept pretty well. One on one violence is so much harder to take. Besides, when the kids are a little older, there's so much less innocence.

The book is deep. The characters have depth. Not just the heroes. The villains also have depth. Some of the villains aren't so villainous. There is nowhere any black and white characters.

The book is dense. New ideas come at you at high velocity. They just keep coming. You expect the author to run out of ideas, but it keeps not happening for the entire 15+ hours of reading. Amazing. Harry Potter is dense, but you may have to reread it to appreciate just how many ideas there are. The first reading of Ender's Shadow is clearly just full of them, back to back. They follow one after another. And yet, just a few of the ideas are telegraphed. Amazing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blood Letting

So, Intelligent Design (ID) is in the news. In the trial, ID is the defendant. The idea is to call ID science, and get it taught in schools. My knee jerk reaction is that ID isn't science - it's warmed over Creationism. My second take is that ID isn't even very good religion. But there's a new way to look at it. First things first.

ID isn't [very good] science. When one looks at the tenants of Intelligent Design, it says that Evolution doesn't explain every detail of how biology works. It complains that the theory of evolution can't explain everything. It suggests that current organisms are so complex that an Intelligent Designer is required to make it work. Unfortunately, it doesn't shed much light on the process that the Designer used, so it doesn't give us any insight into the way the Universe works. Scientists say that ID doesn't make any testable predictions, that it lacks independent verifiability. This is true enough. Another way to look at it is that, as science, ID isn't very good science. So, instead of saying that ID isn't science, perhaps a better attack is to demand some science content from ID.

ID isn't very good religion. ID attacks Evolution for what it does not currently address. For example, an old version of it said that eyes are so complex that they couldn't not have evolved by chance. Too much of the eye has to work for it to be any good. However, since then, the evolution of the eye has been worked out pretty well. One starts by evolving light sensitivity. This is valuable in its own right. There are bacteria that can sense light, where its coming from, and can swim to where it gets the amount of light it needs. For multiple celled creatures, this becomes a light patch. More sensitivity is achieved by having more area be sensitive. A communications network adds the results together to some advantage, and slightly more complex actions can be taken. Adding a lens over the patch increases sensitivity further. Additional neural networking allows better use of the information. And so on. So, ID claims that God, the Intelligent Designer, works in the gaps in Science. But, over the last hundred years or so, this particular gap has been closed. Further, there is evidence to suggest that other gaps may be closed as well. There is no evidence that suggests that any gaps will remain, in principal. So, eventually, ID, as a religion, is closed out completely. Its obsolete. Its also not very good religion for another reason. It doesn't have much to say. It doesn't inspire awe for the Designer, who has less and less to do as time moves on. It doesn't have much to say about ethics, our place in the Universe, etc. ID was built from the start as an attempt to get religion taught in public schools, but in science class.

A new way to look at Intelligent Design is this. Having teachers teach it in school will reduce the amount of time that teachers teach real science in school. Science is already taught at a minimal level or less here in the US. A few years ago, I got to tour a drug store in Philadelphia that had been closed in the 1950's. There was a 50's soda fountain, 50's furniture, and (empty) 50's drug bottles. There were all sorts of poisons - arsenic, hemlock, etc., and they weren't there as rat poison. Patients were expected to consume these things. It was shocking. Modern medicine isn't just a collection of toxins (though there are a few left). Modern medicine isn't perfect - its improving all the time. Its improving because there are people trained as scientists and engineers, using the scientific method to discover better processes. Clearly, if we train our next generation with ID, we'll end up going back to blood letting. Pretty scary.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Too fast

Back in January 2005, i started running on the treadmill. My goal was to run three days a week, for twenty minutes. After six months of running, i was able to increase the distance from about a mile to two and a half miles. However, my average time for a mile stubbornly stayed between 11.5 and 12.5 minutes. My friends suggested that i shouldn't worry about it, that by the end of the year, speed would naturally increase.

However, in June, it became too hot to run indoors. First, i moved the treadmill from the second floor to the first. That gave me a month. Then, i started running outside. Instantly, my times dropped. The induced wind cools me down, and though i'm breathing harder, i'm running faster. After two months of running outside, my times have dropped to about 7 minutes and 20 seconds per mile. My times are erratic, but follow the outside temperature pretty accurately. Hot is slow, cool is fast, more or less.

Now I have a new problem. My speed goal was to get the mile down to nine minutes. All of my problems should be this difficult.

So, i need a new goal. In order to keep the running time over twenty minutes, the distance has to be increased to at least three miles. That's easy enough to do on a treadmill. Outside, it will take a new course. I'll have to measure it.

On the other hand, despite achieving something like running once a week in August, I'm considering attempting to run every day. The New Food Pyramid program suggests exactly that. However, i exceed the suggested pace, as near as I can tell. Yet, though i ran yesterday, it just didn't happen today.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Food Pyramid

The 20 May 2005 episode of Science Friday discusses the new 2005 USDA food pyramid. This new pyramid has changes in what food is recommended, but also adds exercise. In particular, if you exercise more, you get to eat more. Eating more allows you to have more discretionary calories - sort of a reward for exercise. Though they have a list of things to avoid, like processed sugar and transfat, they emphasize things you are supposed to eat.

In my opinion there are four things to do for good health, not two. Eating right, is one. Exercise for your cardio vascular system is another. In addition to exercise for your body, you need exercise for your brain. The forth is to drink plenty of water.

Exercise your brain. Take up an intellectual hobby. There are a number of good ones. Reading. Crossword puzzles. Building up mental arithmetic skills. Write essays. Astronomy as a hobby, which has the side effect of getting you out of the house. There are plenty of others. Pick one or more that you actually enjoy. One benefit is that you will be doing something you enjoy.

Each of these features of healthy living has a noticeable benefit. Eating right should bring your weight to some semblance of trim. You may not notice being at lower risk of diabetes, etc. Exercise like biking or running will give you noticeable energy and endurance. The most compelling reason for adults, especially over 30, for exercise is sex life. I don't mean attracting partners - as you can certainly be in good physical condition while being overweight. I'm referring to performance. Mental exercise of various kinds can noticeably improve your memory and mood. Drinking more than enough water will reduce the severity and frequency of disease.

I personally have never lost weight through exercise. I have only lost weight by reducing my food intake. I have never gained energy by changing my diet. That requires exercise. These are often confused.

The old recommendation was 30 minutes of exercise, three days a week. The new recommendation is 30 minutes every day. Add 30 additional minutes of lighter exercise.

I did not see water intake in the food pyramid. A search for 'water' does not get any response. For healthy living, drink at least half a gallon of water, every day. That's eight eight ounce glasses. If you work at a desk, you should have a glass in front of you, and you should sip at it all day long. Soda and coffee do not count. There should be no sugar or caffeine in these drinks. You can drink more water if it is room temperature than if it is refrigerated. The noticeable benefits are reduced disease, such as colds, and increased energy. Psychologically, its more difficult to consume soda and other things you should be avoiding if your water intake is high. Its also easier to eat less if your water intake is high.

Changing my habits in these four areas has improved my life in dramatic ways. Avoidance of sugar has allowed me to lose weight - about 35 pounds. I have improved my time for a mile run from about 12.5 minutes to about 8 minutes. This has dramatically improved my energy and endurance. Twenty minutes of mental exercise a day has improved my memory and concentration. Drinking a half gallon of water has contributed the lion's share of essentially eliminating disease from my life. The result is that i feel better, and am likely to live longer.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Really Bad

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other man pulls out his phone and calls emergency services.

He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator in a calm, soothing voice replies: "Take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead."

There is a silence, then a shot is heard.

Back on the phone, the hunter says, "OK, now what?"

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trip to Maryland

So, Max and i made it back home around 8 AM. It took ten hours and three 20 oz Cokes to get there. 60 oz is just shy of a half gallon. I used to drink that while sitting at work, every day. I get a little retroactive diabetic shock just thinking about it. It shouldn't have been a surprise that i gained weight. The real surprise is how little i gained. 2 pounds a year.

Max fell asleep almost right away, and the tank was about three quarters full. So the first fill up and rest stop was in Ohio. The car ran pretty smoothly, with no significant problems. All things being relative, "no significant problems" means that, well, one of the times when i made a rest stop, the car wouldn't start. The starter motor has a dead spot. So i had to push start it. I couldn't just sit in the driver's seat and push it in reverse with the one foot. I actually had to get out of the car and push it a few feet. Twice. While i wasn't out of breath, it did have me breathing hard for a minute while i pulled the car onto the highway.

Apparently, my endurance for this overnight thing is nine hours, not ten. So, i really had to tough it out once i crossed the Michigan border. The the only rest stop in Michigan is the Welcome Center. It is closed. Visitors take note. You are not welcomed to Michigan. I should have stopped in Ohio near Toledo. I was too tired to think that far ahead. Readers will note the irony. For me, its a way of life. I'm not real sorry if my karma ran over your dogma.

The first tank of gas for the trip got 37 mpg, the second got 36 mpg. Strange. The second tank participated in the new spark plugs. The number two plug was really fouled with charred oil. That's the cylinder that needs the ring job. It was approximately 2.5 tanks of gas, or 45 gallons. $120 in gas, roughly, for the trip. In July, i was paying $2.139 a gallon. That would have been $96. Last year, this trip was $55.

Once home, i unpacked the car and fell asleep. Dawn entertained Max for most of the day. When I woke, I did about three hours of work on the car. There is no evidence of a continuing water leak. The water overflow was basically empty, but the radiator was full. The car needed another quart of oil. I put some electrical tape on the exhaust gas vent thingy. I removed the ground wire on the starter motor, clean up the terminal and plug, and applied dielectric greece, and tried it. It seemed to help just a little bit, but really, i need a new starter. I should have replaced it earlier this summer when i had the new one in my hands. I diagnosed for sure a clicking sound from under the hood. There's a minor exhaust leak near the exhaust manifold. I left the car up on the blocks to work on it tonight, but it just didn't cool down fast enough. It will have to wait until the weekend. Then, something i had wanted to do before the trip, i cleaned the windshields and applied Rainex. I'll be happy if it reduces the dew in the morning.

It was quite an adventure for me. That's adventure as in the UHaul slogan "Adventure in Moving", where you imagine that the front universal joint lets go, and your truck is pole vaulted from the overpass. Max wasn't that concerned about the car, or at least, i've trained him that the problems with the car are my responsibility, and that he doesn't have to worry about it. He sure had a good time over the weekend with George, the Smithsonian, and sailing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The One Ring

My son is enamoured of the movie series, The Lord of the Rings. He's been begging to go to Borders, where they sell The One Ring. In what must have been a marketing coup, they also sell The One Ring in packages of five.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Use the Force

The Star Wars saga is over, unless you count the pod cast by by Star Wars fan father Roderick Vonhögen. There are those that haven't seen the series. These include my eight year old. He has known for some time that he has wanted to see them. I have decided that the time has come, and have started by introducing the movies to him, one at a time, in order.

But what order is that? Should it be in chronological order of presentation, or in episode order. That is, now that they are all available, does it make sense to start with episode one? Partly because the video store didn't have episode one available at the time, Episode IV: A New Hope was chosen. That's that.

I don't just set him down in front of the TV, however. I watch stuff with him. This is true even for stuff that I have seen before. I want to see his reactions to what is going on. If i've seen something with him, i will sometimes let him watch it again on his own. He likes watching stuff over and over. I guess i did too, when i was that age. If i don't watch with him, then something always happens, like two years ago with Jurassic Park. He may never watch that movie, because it gave him the creeps when he was six.

We just saw The Empire Strikes Back. I have to say that i didn't like it that much when it came out. Sure, i'm a Star Wars fan. So, when i say i didn't like it, i mean in comparison to the first movie, Episode IV. It doesn't mean, for example, that it rates lower than reruns of Let's Make a Deal game shows.

There is stuff in there that i like. I like the religion that Yoda spouts. Things like, stay focused, and commit yourself to success, and the unpredictability of the future. I've heard people complain that the religion of the Force is thin. Well it is. However, its a movie, not a book. After all, despite 10.5 hours of film dedicated to The Lord of the Rings, it is pretty thin compared to the books. Even if George had more of this religion developed, it could not be presented in the context of a movie, or six movies.

Then, there is stuff i didn't like so much. The ice planet Hoth. Planets are big complicated places. Look at the Earth, or Mars. Mars has Deserts, ice caps, canyon systems, volcanoes, and craters. Earth additionally has rain forests, cities, oceans, underground cave systems, etc. You don't need a whole planet to be all one thing. Painting a planet that is at all capable of supporting life as all one thing is very thin. All the planets in Star Wars seemed to be dedicated to just one idea or other. Star Trek suffered from this. Really, ten or twenty episodes could have been spent beaming down to just one planet.

There was little stuff. One day Luke rescues himself from a wild animal - cut off its arm with a light saber, but instead of staying in the cave where it was safe, he ventures out into the cold. Yet shortly after, he single handedly blows up an Imperial Walker in a dramatic daring feat. Its one thing to show character building, but this was before his Jedi training.

Yet, i sort of like how he lands blind on the planet Dagoba within a few meters of Yoda. Use the Force, Luke.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ice Cream

Time heals all ills. A fairly short time covers ice cream headaches.

So, here i am, impatiently waiting for the ice cream headache to subside, so that i can wolf down the rest of the serving. The headache is severe. The ice cream isn't that good, is it? We're talking about severe pain. I know it will go away. But why court experiencing that sort of pain again? Its hard to believe that simple impatience covers it.

Perhaps nature will give us some sort of insight into migrain headaches through ice cream headaches. That would be, uhm, welcome relief for many.

Yes, time heals all ills. But while waiting for even an ice cream headache to go away, i'm thinking, just like AIDS.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Last Autumn, i decided to teach my son how to do arithmetic. I would do it right. I went online and purchased a "how to" book, an abacus for myself and an abacus for my son. He was seven.

I joined a Yahoo discussion group that i found somehow. They're totally focused. I participated avidly for a bit, then got down to business.

The abacus that i'm talking about is the Japanese Soroban. The more common Chinese abacus has a dividing bar with five beads below and two beads above on each rod. It seems to be optimized for doing hexadecimal math - base 16. This used to be used in China for weights and monetary computations. You know, 16 ounces in a pound... that sort of thing. The Japanese abacus, called the Soroban, has four beads below the bar, and one above. It is optimized for decimal. Base ten. By an odd coincidence, that's what we use here in the US. We have a decimal money system, as well as decimal weights and measures. That's right, Congress passed a law in the 1800's proclaiming that everyone should use the metric system for weights, distances, etc. in the United States. That's why speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour.

One can add, subtract, multiply and divide easily on the soroban. I taught myself how to perform arithmetic on the soroban when i was about 17. After three months, i was quite proficient. Then i came on a chapter which told me that i no longer needed the physical instrument. Just imagine one, and move the beads. I was skeptical, but tried it. I went through all the exercises in the book in my head. That includes multiplying two four digit numbers together, and getting an eight digit answer. Or dividing a six digit number by a three digit number, and getting a three digit answer.

Two things struck me about the technique. I was always right. That is to say, after adding and subtracting perhaps a thousand numbers, and performing perhaps a hundred multiplications and divisions, i had not made a single mistake. Had i performed this on paper, i'd have made dozens of errors. It wasn't me. The technique is that good. The reason seems to be that it handles carries and borrows in a simple and immediate manner. There's nothing to remember.

The other thing that struck me was how fast it was. Addition and subtraction on the Soroban was about the same speed as an electronic calculator - which i owned in 1975. Addition and subtraction via mental arithmetic (anzan) was faster. Multiplication and division were faster on the calculator, as you'd expect.

Today, the draw of the abacus for me is that it has the potential to take the fear of math out of students. If there is no fear of math, then math based skills, like science, will have less or no fear as well. Technology is based on science. Our society is based on technology. Under no circumstances do i want my son to be incompetent at life.

Its been less than a year. My son performs two digit adds and subtracts. He's not always right, but he's much better than with pencil and paper. He's faster too.

My own mental arithmetic skills have disappeared from disuse. The brain is like a muscle. You have to use it, or it becomes weak. My mental skills have not come back, as yet. There are hints that it may, if i keep at it. I'm currently performing mixed addition and subtraction with ten five digit numbers, basically every day. Perhaps just one problem over breakfast. I'm still making mistakes from time to time. These stem from losing my place or getting distracted in the middle. Soon, however, i'll move on to multiplication and division. Then, square roots, logarithms and trigonometry functions. I once performed a problem like sin(23.7 degrees) to ten digits in my head. It took about 35 minutes, and i was correct. Those were the days.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Table Lookup

I went to an engineering school. While there, i hung out with a group of about 20 guys (some of whom are women). There were de facto spots to hang out. For three years, it was one of the on campus apartments, large enough to have its own living room. So, a bunch of us would be hanging out, deep in conversation.

Now, in computer software, there is hardly any duplication. If there is any, it can generally be relegated to a subroutine, and calls made to it. The advantage is that if there is an error, it can be fixed once. If there is a new idea, it can be applied once. That's the theory, anyway.

For a group of engineers and scientists, all with excellent memory, the same sort of efficiency could be had with conversations. Whole conversations would be given a label, and references could be made. No need to rehash the debates, a reference to the label was enough to carry all sides. If someone missed an interesting (referenced) conversation, someone could fill that person in, without the need to tie up the whole group. As a result, conversations became somewhat higher level.

Oddly, no one ever wrote any of this stuff down. So who knows what wisdom or tripe has been lost. Perhaps it would have been too much like documentation. Everyone knows that programmers don't like to write English. I thought that was true for me at the time. However, when the group project reports needed to be written, i volunteered every time, even when others competent with text editors and formatting programs were available. Of late, i find myself writing more English than anything else.

We really couldn't say that this task was too difficult, that computers and editors weren't available. In fact, we enjoyed free and unlimited computer time. Text editors and formatting programs were available. We have were able to cut a 9 track tape before we left with all our stuff. One hundred and thirty five megabytes fits on such a tape - which is alot compared with the amount of stuff you can type.

We might argue that it takes longer than a half hour to type up a half hour conversation. We could all remember everything, so why bother. Except that i can't remember any of it, as far as i know.

A quarter of a century or so later, this blog resembles those conversations from time to time, at least in form.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I replaced a tire on my car today. You might ask if i got my money's worth out of the old one. You might just as well ask if i cheated death. Its the same question. And the answer is:

Oh yeah.

A couple days ago, i noticed when going under a bridge while in the far left lane, there was an echo off the wall from my car. It was a funny flappy sound, perhaps coming from the driver's side rear tire. I imagined a chunk of tire tread hanging loose, flapping in the breeze. Today i noticed that the car shimmied violently at low speed. So when i got home, i decided on an inspection. It looked bad. It was worn thin - well past legal. It had a bump on it that i could sort of detect, but couldn't really see without taking the tire off of the car.

Time was pressing. I knew that the spare was a spare because it was showing the steel belt. I wasn't going to put something like that back on the car in anything other than a dire emergency. That's right, i have a real tire for a spare - not a donut. The spare was in the trunk, and therefore handy, and the tire store was about to close. If i hurried, and rolled in the spare, they'd put a new tire on it. I could get it onto my car in my leisure.

So, home again, i pulled the suspect tire off the car. No flap of tread hanging loose. It was showing some chord, and there was a bulge. The bulge was big. Huge. What had happened was that a large section of the tread was no longer attached to the tire, and that section had expanded. It made me nervous to look at it. It could explode at any moment.

So i put the new tire on the car, and let some air out of the old tire. No use having it explode in my trunk. Or my face.

The tire store is open late twice a week. Perhaps next week i'll replace this new spare.

In the mean time, i'll put gas in the car tomorrow, and see if i can get another quarter of a million miles out of it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Comparative Magic Systems

The magic system of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role playing game always seemed to me more or less haphazard. The lists of spells that wizards could cast seemed like a jumble of everything that the game designers could think of. Like the content of many early computer CDs: dumpware.

By comparison, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings Amber, and my own nameless variant of the D & D fantasy role playing games have underlay which seem to make sense of it all. Naturally, if it makes perfect sense, its not magic so much as science. These systems don't give everything away. My own system makes the most sense - at least to me. The magic system is called Lawful Magic - not because the players need to follow the rules, but because the system itself has rules and follows them.

So, Lawful Magic is powered by the individual. An organ, controlled by the brain is developed to a lesser or greater extent. So, some people have more potential than others. Many have potential that goes unnoticed or undeveloped. Magic is difficult, and may require a number of skills. Magic is deliberate. No one accidentally casts it, as with Harry. Casting magic takes practice, requires energy from the body, and due to efficiency issues, is essentially an intellectual exercise. As time goes on, new magic is researched and learned, and magic gains in power over time, the knowledge amassed in libraries.

Magic in Amber comes to a small pool of people - one family. A pattern is encoded genetically, and grants a fairly narrow range of tremendous powers. Magical power comes from desire.

In The Lord of the Rings magic is inherited from ancient god-like creatures. Through time, their descendants blood becomes less potent, and people become less powerful and live shorter lives. So ancient people like Tom Bombadil live forever and have personal power above all magic. The elves live forever and have significant magical powers. Men have less or none. Its an anti-Darwinian universe, where each new generation is less fit than the previous. It appears to be modeled on nobility from the dark ages, where inbreeding leads to such losses. That line is all but spent.

The Harry Potter universe has magic potential as genetic, and random. The power comes from emotion. Magic can happen by accident, for example, when angry or scared. The whole story seems to be about what happens when an evil person makes everyone angry and scared. Yet, there is a knowledge component, and as in my system, knowledge is power.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Speling and gramer

There aren't that many spelling mistakes in these postings. Oh, sometimes one will slip through. Though the spell checker is religiously run, every now and then i just skip going to church altogether. That happens, for example, when proof reading. This is done at the keyboard, and any corrections are made right away. Sometimes i think that, Oh, its only one sentence - it is unlikely that there are any mistakes, and so church is skipped.

Mistakes are still made. The contraction for it is is irregular. Does it have an apostrophe or not? Then, the spelling checker knows that both form and from are words. So, this very common typo slips through the automatic, but very stupid, checker. A grammar checker might catch it, but i've not seen one yet that is worth my time. They complain about all sorts of things that are exactly what i intended.

Then, there's style. Perhaps you've noticed the lower case first person singular pronoun. I try to consistently use upper case if it starts a sentence, whereas i use lower case if it isn't at that position.

Though i proof read my stuff, it usually happens just after i've written it. That means that while i'm reading it, i still remember it well enough to succumb to the temptation of reading what i expect to read, rather than what is really there. My next day proof reading is significantly better. Really, i should have someone else proof read my stuff, while i proof read theirs. That would also teach us both the rules of grammar and spelling that the other knows. Any takers? It could be done by email. There is a little, tiny email link at the very bottom of this page. Go ahead.

So why do i do it? Why bother? This isn't a paid assignment. This is just me rambling into the ether. There may not even be an audience. No one may be reading this at all. In the event that someone is reading it, i don't want to sound completely stupid. I want the reader to work harder to determine that i'm a complete idiot. Its pretty much that simple. Its style - like the goofy thing with the first person singular pronoun.

Some things to check: Remember to never split an infinitive. The passive voice should never be used. Do not put statements in the negative form. Verbs have to agree with their subjects. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. A writer must not shift your point of view. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.) Don't overuse exclamation marks!! Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing. Always pick on the correct idiom. The adverb always follows the verb. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives. Thanks to William Safire.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Last June, from the 5th to the 10th, the BBC published the symphonies of Beethoven. They were available for free download for about a week. Early in the sequence, i downloaded the first symphony and listened to it at work. I wrote a short review of the piece and sent it by email to the BBC. They sent a nice note back asking if they could publish it, and, i told them that yes, that is what i had in mind.

I thought it was a little odd that i could download it for free during that week, but the license said that i could not then copy it. The exact quote is You may not copy, reproduce, edit, adapt, alter, republish, post, broadcast, transmit, make available to the public, or otherwise use this audio in any way except for your own personal, non-commercial use.. Naturally, i have to copy it just to listen to it. And, the best way to expand the BBC audience, in my opinion, is to make sure that BBC appears in the file names and allow free distribution. Oh well.

In August, i received a packet by snail mail that i wasn't expecting. In the large envelope were a couple booklets. One is the Concert Programme for Beethoven The 9 symphonies. The other is a small glossy booklet covering the 2005/06 BBC Philharmonic season. In it, they talk about next year's similar extravaganza: Tchaikovsky Symphony Cycle starting Friday, 19 May 2006. On three days, Symphonies 3, 4, then 1, 5, then 2, 6 will be performed. It sounds like a schedule of the firing order of a six cylinder engine. However, i can hardly wait. Now, its unlikely that i'll make the trip across the pond, but the booklet does give the prices for season tickets, and even has an installment plan for easy payments.

Overall, it appeared to me a first rate set of booklets for a first rate set of concerts. I was happy to receive them.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What A Gas

Two sixty one nine a gallon? Feh. Its up thirty cents a gallon since last month! Feh, i say again. Something has to be done. What can be done?

A year or so ago, President GW Bush said that, "There is no instant cure for the energy shortage." This was and is wrong. He says these kinds of things all the time, and i'm embarrassed to be an American. My president is scientifically illiterate and must surround himself with illiterates for advice. Regan was charismatic, but his credibility was hurt when it leaked out that he had sought out and gotten advice from an astrologer.

My car, a 1988 Mazda 626 with a 2.2 liter fuel injected 12 valve engine and 5 speed manual transmission, regularly gets about 35 miles per gallon of regular gas. It has an EPA highway rating of 32 miles per gallon. It has achieved 41 miles per gallon on a tank of gas - getting 615 miles on 15 gallons of gas. It isn't modified for economy. It achieves better economy in part because of the kind of driving it has too do (nearly all highway driving) and because of the way i drive it. I like to use the cruise control. My measurements show that at about the same speed, using cruise improves my mileage by about 4 miles per gallon. That's about 10 percent. Further, when on cruise, it is annoying to pull up behind someone and have to change lanes to pass or alter the cruise speed. Sometimes, if approaching a car slowly, when the car gets even with the other car, they speed up to match your speed. I've even seen cars that will pace you so that you are clearly in their blind spot for miles. Worse, sometimes they pace you so that they are in your blind spot for miles. Its better to just go slightly slower than most traffic so that they have to pass you. I let them ride my bumper if they want. Their aggression is wasted on my cruise control.

So my car ends up going a little slower than the rest of traffic. I get to where i'm going in about the same time. I make very few rest stops, sometimes going eight hours between them. On long trips, the same cars pass me again and again.

And, i'm driving some 35,000 miles a year. It wasn't my first choice. I recall when my commute was about 100 yards with fondness. Its just how it is.

My measurements show that my car gets about 17% better gas mileage at 60 than at 70. By going 55 miles per hour, my car gets twenty seven miles per gallon while towing my 16 foot boat. Most SUVs don't get 27 MPG, but my car gets that while towing a boat.

At any rate, one instant fix to the energy crisis is to bring back the double nickles. Post Speed Limit 55 signs on the nation's highways, and the instant effect is more than 10 percent less gas consumed. Why wait for the national mandate? It is quite legal to drive at 55 even if the speed limit is 70. In many places, trucks and busses are required to drive that speed (not that they do). Then you can enjoy your own private ten to twenty percent discount on driving right away. If everyone does it, then demand goes down and, probably, prices go down too.

In the 1970's, conservation made up the lion's share of what it took to get out of the crisis. Wear a sweater at home in the winter, and set your house to 67 degrees F. That's too cold for me, so i set it as low as i can stand - about 70. But in the summer, i try not to use air conditioning. This summer, i have not turned it on once. This has come as a surprise to my friends. It's been hot. Well, i like it hot.

Of course, if you're buying a new car, you can choose one that meets your needs with the best fuel economy.

There's more. Over the past five years, I have been replacing burned out incandescent light bulbs with those screw in fluorescent bulbs. I've tried most brands now. Some take a second to flicker on, but there are brands that come on basically instantly. Unlike the long tubes, which for me seem to always flicker at 60 Hz, the screw in bulbs seem to burn steady. That means i can read by them. This is a good thing, since i want to use them where i need light for long periods of time. The 22 watt bulbs are supposed to be as bright as 100 watt incandescent bulbs - but they seem to me as a little less. Still, i can get bulbs that are bright enough for what i need, and i generally end up with more light everywhere rather than less. So these bulbs turn out to be about four times as efficient as the old ones. They also last much longer. I'd rather have bulbs that never need replacing and pay a few extra bucks for them. They claim that buying them saves money. The bright ones claim to save $75 over their life. My electric company says that lighting comprises about 44 percent of home electricity use. Since one fourth of 44 percent is eleven percent, that should mean that i'm saving about 33 percent of my electric bill. That's one third. Since i tend not to use air conditioning and have gas hot water, it may be more than that for me.

I have also begun a project to double the insulation in my Attic. I'm about three quarters finished. I'm doing it myself in late fall and early spring - where the temperatures are moderate. So far, it has cost about a hundred dollars. It has been worth it in the improvement in comfort alone for the half of the house that is finished.

I have installed a little switch on the vent for my clothes dryer. In the winter, I vent the hot and moist air into the house. In the summer, it goes outside. Its in the basement, and i probably wouldn't do it if i spent most of my time down there. It doesn't seem to add lint everywhere in the house, or even the basement. It may be adding dust, however, requiring more frequent cleaning. This hasn't been really measured, as yet. It was under ten bucks, and has probably saved me more than that - though this hasn't really been measured either.

I'd like to do more still. My roof and attic get very hot in the summer. This makes the upper floor hotter than it might be. Changing my roof tiles from dark material to a more reflective material should make my roof and attic cooler in the summer. There is also a design called a double roof. There is a space between the two roofs, and the air between them is allowed to connectively flow out - so there is always a fresh supply of ambient temperature air. Perhaps when the roof needs to be redone in a few years this could be easily and cheaply retrofitted to about two thirds of the roof area.

I'd like to add passive solar heating to supplement the heat in the winter. This is basically a panel that heats water with the light of the sun, perched on the roof. Perhaps hot water from it could feed the hot water heater too. Then, showers would last longer - because when the main tank runs out, instead of having to heat up cold water, it would get hotter water from the start.

Another thing i'd like to do is vent the heat from my basement dehumidifier to the outside. That wouldn't make it an air conditioner, but as i only run it in the summer, and the heat it produces is not desirable in my house - even in my relatively cool basement.

Most of these improvements would pay for themselves, decrease my cost of living, and increase my comfort level - my standard of living.

It's too late to redesign my house from scratch. What i'd like is a to have more of the living space underground. That would make my summers comfortable without air conditioning. There are some housing concepts out there that promise to cut heating fuel bills by ninety percent. The time has come, and the way for it to happen is for people to demand it. How do you do that? Shop around. If you are building your own house, build it right from the start. It demands something that has been traditionally difficult - consumer education.