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.