Firefox Crown of Thorns

While I am ranting, I would like to give a two sided response to the Firefox folks.

One of the things I dearly like about Firefox 2 is that it has a spell checker.

One of the things that I intensely dislike is the stupidity of that spell checker.

When I blog – using Performancing/ScribeFire – I have to keep my Concise Oxford Dictionary in the upper right corner of the desktop all the time to check the words that Firefox says are misspelled. By my approximate survey – over this one week – about 0.87 of the words Firefox says are misspelled are not. My conclusion is that the adaptability of the spell checker is sadly deficient.

And yes, I will admit that selecting the upper right corner is my choice based on my work habits, the geography of my desktop, and some other factors that I am not fully conscious of – probably that my RSS article alert stack (Alertbear) insists on inhabiting the lower right corner. But this rant is directed at Firefox, even if it is a mixed bag of praise and prod.

The prod is that you need to do some work on making this spell checker a bit smarter.

Yumping Yimminie

This is a bit of a rant so those who may object to strong language may be at risk of being offended. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t written the whole thing yet.

Many of the web sites I have gone to recently, pointed by my RSS feed subscriptions, feature an advertisement by General Electric. Evidently GE is trying to brainwash surfers as to how ecologically conscious they are. This is part of the expected flood among the corporations to say they are countering global warming regardless of how little they really are doing. In quite a few cases it will eventually emerge that this advertsing is all that they are doing, but by that time it may be too late and they can take their money to the grave with them.

Anyway, their mascot or totem – cute cartoonish animal figure – is some sort of tree frog (maybe toad) who flops about the page obstructing and distracting reading. As such it is advertising at its simplest and purest, as such is supposed to be mildly amusing to counter the sourness of its antagonizing distraction.

My complaint about this thing is its ubiquity. Yesterday I kept tabs on how many of the web pages I visited had this odious computer frog. In total, only 0.23 of them, but if I only count the science web sites, including science blogs, I get 0.51.

I have to hope that GE is spending as much on actually combating global warming as they are proliferating that frog!

Museum Musings

I have always been a bear for museums. I do not quite know why but it seems to be something entrained in my genetic makeup. I can find no ancestors who share this perversion, either parents or grandparents. Yet to this day my ideal of a vacation is days spent puring over the collections of museums.

I have to admit to being somewhat selective. Art does little for me, nor am I entranced by many of the more popular exhibits. When my parents took me to the District as a child I have to admit to greater interest in the Romanesque statue of George Washington than the hall of First Ladies’ inaugural gowns; to the Smithsonian’s collection of postage stamps than the Hope diamond.

It was also on that trip that I learned some valuable lessons about humans and museums. One of our visits in the capitol of the Yankee republic was a wax museum , one of whose exhibits was of a waxen Robert Edward Lee and Ulysses Simpson (born Hiram Ulysses) Grant at Appomattox. The exhibit was sadly compromised by several errors, one of which was that Lee was portrayed as surrendering the Confederacy to the Union. This, of course, is quite beyond Lee’s authority to say nothing of power. What he actually was surrendering, as its commander, was the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Grant who was general-in-chief, field marshal, or war czar of the Union armies. There were other Confederate field armies still abroad, and the actual span of the Confederacy had some time to run. This is a point often missed in public education and obviously by that district wax museum.

The other obvious mistake was that despite careful reproduction of the chairs used by the two commanders, their roles had become reversed in the display with Lee reposing in the reproduction of Grant’s chair and visa versa. As change would intrude, it happened that as we were departing the museum the proprietor asked my parents if we had enjoyed our tour. My mother replied that it was enjoyable in spite of the inaccuracies noted by her son. The proprietor, obviously expecting childish misconception, asked what I found wrong, and being denied tact by the same cruel genetics that endowed me with museum interest, I told him in exacting terms. His reaction, which taught me a great deal about both humans and museums, was that I could not possibly be right because no adult had ever noted any such discrepancies. I informed him that he should be advised to check the accuracy of my claims and at that point, wishing to avoid any scene, my parents hustled me off.

But I was rather pleased a couple of weeks later to receive a letter from the proprietor apologizing for his incredulity and claiming that he had rectified both inaccuracies. But then the fifties were a kinder, more polite period although even as we approached the centennial of the second revolution, abysmally ignorant of it. But then we seem as humans to consistently deny the mold that shaped us.

In which regard, I note that the opening of the “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky [Link] where apparently the same inaccuracies of history portrayed by Ringo Starr in “Caveman” are presented, replete with mystical rationalizations. Clearly a sad miscarriage of religion seems to be perpetrated here. I must admit to not having visited and would have to admit to a small probability of actual visitation given the number of accurate museums and perhaps of high secondary import, the number of excellent microbreweries in the Cincinnati area. But I do fear the fate of any honest and inquiring child who should offer a critique of the inaccuracies apparently present in this museum. And certainly that tells us something about how humans may misuse each other as well as museums.

And while we are considering misuse, let us take up the matter of the Smithsonian exhibit on global warming that was delay and neutered to defray any wrath of the present administration. [Link] This is another lesson I learned on that museum sabbatical long ago, the risk that placing any repository of knowledge and research amidst politicians has, for however thickly and adamantinely mystical dogma may be protected by religious zealots, so thin and brittle are the egos of politicians in the protection of their policies.

Hard and Soft

This morning’s CNET articles includes one that describes a diatribe by the hardware industry on the software industry.[Link] Evidently the explosion was partly induced by Megahard’s announcement, covered in another blot, of how the next edition or iteration of WINDOWS would be vastly different from VISTA, being based fundamentally on using multicore processors.

The hardware industry, in the form of an Intel fellow, lambastes the software industry for not also being responsive to Moore’s Law.  At this point I should perhaps mention something about the taxonomy of laws. Laws of the first kind, sometimes called primary laws, are those that describe fundamental processes of reality, tempered only by our limited perceptions and cognitions. The laws of physics are example of these. A common misconception is that these laws are immutable and in a sense they are, but since our understanding of the actuality that these laws represent is limited and hopefully improving, the statement and interpretation of these laws is mutable.

Laws of the second kind, sometimes called secondary laws, are those that describe derivative processes. These include most of the “laws” postulated by social scientists. Often these laws are empirical in nature and are valid over a limited range of some sort. Laws of the third kind, sometimes called tertiary laws, are those invented by humans without any strong connection with reality. The laws passed by legislatures fall into this category.

“Violations of the laws of the first kind will kill you, of the second kind either enrich or pauperize you, and of the third kind enslave you.”

Moore’s Law is a law of the second kind. It states that the number of fundamental processor operations performed per second that a state-of-the-engineering processor can perform doubles every 1.5 years. The reason this is a secondary law is that it may violate some primary laws. That is, at some point the way the universe is physically may prevent engineers from developing new processors that are faster than predecessors. Interestingly, Intel seems to have admitted, somewhat stealthily, that it has hit a speed barrier and is only maintaining advances by multicoring. Of course, this may be a misunderstanding on my part due to poor reportage or misreading.

There are a couple of things that strike me as interesting here. The social one is an indication that the hardware side of the information world sees the software side as damping the market. Since Megahard portrays that VISTA is primarily an effort to strengthen security, an aspect almost orthogonally alien to the hardware industry, this perception may have some justification but not necessarily benefit for the user/consumer.

On a technical basis, Moore’s Law is actually a limiting factor computationally. If we are interested in solving problems with computers, the way in which the problems are mapped into the discrete representation of computers is crucial. Let us suppose that a representation of N discrete things is necessary to adequate state the problem. Then, if the number of calculations to enumerate the problem is proportional to N, we may double the size of N, and thus the accuracy of the representation, every 1.5 years.

If however, and this is usually the case, the number of calculations to enumerate the problem is N^m, then the time to be able to double the size of N is 2^(m-1) * 1.5 years. Many basic problems require N^2 calculations (a simple sort, for example), so the doubling time for the problem is really 2^(2-1) * 1.5 years = 3.0 years.

I should comment that this situation doesn’t apply to most people/users/consumers. Primarily this only impacts folks doing technical research, have rapidly growing databases that need to be serached and sorted, and computer gamers. The latter are impacted by the resolution of the visual representation and thereby the ease of suspension of disbelief, and hence, presumably, the believability and enjoyment. Most folks however fall into two categories of users.

The first of these are those who have some programs they run periodically. The characteristic of these programs is how many times they have to run it. If its once a day or month, then processor speed isn’t a primary concern, that occurs only if the time to run the programs gets close to (or bigger than) the time between individual runs. So the impact of processor speed here is how much time they have to spend making n runs a day.

The second are folks who use several different programs and would like to have them all running at a good speed simultaneously. Since this is often limited by the speed of the processor, these folks are primarily interested in how many programs is the practical limit.

Hence, both of these types of folks are more interested in having multiple processors available since that translates into multiple programs or multiple instances of the same program running simultaneously. This multitasking is not as directly compatible with multicore as one might think and it is still a major challenge for the software folks, despite all of Megahard’s often coughed claims.

And this, I suspect, is the real gap that the software folks need to fix.

The Nice List

According to myth, the Santa Claus (one among many appellations) keeps lists of children who are, separately, naughty and nice. Those who are naughty receive coal and switches for Christmas presents while those who are nice receive great treasures, or, at least toys. Strangely, despite extensive and repeated observation by a multitude of observers, there is no incidence of a child receiving coal and switches, so unless underwear and toiletries are the modern equivalent, all children must be nice.

The RSS feeds this morning have an amazing resemblance to this stream of Yuletide events. A bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve U has published a book claiming that altruistic people live longer, better lives.[Link] This definitely falls into the category of the catch phrase “That’s nice.”  One immediately questions whether bioethics is a science or a specialized branch of philosophy when one reviews the “scientific” claims made in the reportage.

There is immediately, as with Santa Claus’ lists, question of how altruism is measured and in what manner. This is rather the sort of undertaking one would expect of sociologists or even anthropologists rather than bioethicalists. Even then there is the aspect of stamp collecting since the general mythos is that the kind and “good” live better lives than the stingy and “evil”. Despite the catch phrase that “only the good die young”, which is primarily little more than grave side rationalization, even the major religions recognize that righteous living is more beneficial even if they sometimes cloak such in the wizard’s robe of mystic symbology.

However, some good may attach from the work, given the egoism of the currently maturing generation. Raised in an environment of false success and achievement by the baby sitting educational cabal, self centrism is observably at an all time high, a generation consistently and  collectively deserving of coal and switches. Perhaps Pollyannaish tomes like this will awaken some beneficial altruism in those few of the generation who actually read and think.

Another article [Link] explores the Dell – MalWart consortion from the azimuth of what it means to Dell. The somewhat feeble bottom line is that Dell has become hampered by its absence in the bazaar. May be, but only in the sense that the nation is increasing more ignorant and less smart in their purchases of both hardware and software. The now tottering eminence of Megahard is ample evidence of this situation.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the knowledgeable tend to buy big ticket items via the modern equivalent of “mail order” (or build their own) rather than but the crippled appliances offered by the local retail shops, big or small box. Only two factors mitigate against the ordering of a tuned box and they are shipping charges (versus differential taxes) and information ignorance. The gas peak has not yet progressed to the point where the former has had telling impact on transportation costs of good, so we are left with further evidence of the dumbing of the consumer.

On the other hand, the association with Dell falls right into MalWart’s clutches. This gives them eminent leverage over both Dell and HP, playing each against the other to buy low and sell high. Sadly, given the rising dissatisfaction with MalWart’s greed, one suspects that the end state will be degradation of the position of all three.

Next, research from U Chicago indicates that because women perceive they are maths handicapped they become insecure and their memory degrades.[Link] This also tends to fall into the realm of “That’s nice” science, mostly because it seems highly unlikely that this will add much more than peripheral window dressing to the persistent and periodic question of whether women have less maths ability than men. The memory degradation point is more interesting since it flies in the face of common observation.

If anything, the evidence of such is that women’s memories are much better than men’s both in the mean and in density of occurrence. If this is in spite of a degradation due to anxiety over a perceived lack of maths skills, then perhaps we should find a palliative so that men can be reduced to the role of male praying mantis?

In my experience, I am aware of few women who have greatly poorer maths skills or abilities than men. Admittedly, part of that is nothing more than the fact that most humans, regardless of reproductive plumbing and/or chromosomal composition, have abysmal effective maths skills. If we introduced a law that no one could obtain a driver’s license without demonstrating the skillful use of basic calculus, then less than 0.01 of the Yankee republic’s population would be legally chartered to drive. (Yes, Virginia, this is an interesting way of addressing global warming.)

Perhaps we should instead consider why village idiots are almost universally male?

Lastly, I see that research from U Copenhagen indicates that planetary formation in the Sol system may not be as thought.[Link] Evidently the prevalent theory is that the planets formed from the Solar garbage cloud by compression of a shock wave from a nearby, at least in galactic terms, supernova. The relative under abundance of atomic weight 60 Iron and the over abundance of atomic weight 26 aluminum indicates that wind compression from a super massive star is more likely the cause of planetary formation. So who says there is too much violence in the universe?

This leads us immediately to a snippet from T. S. Eliot:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
and lead us to ask the question of whether whimpering is naughty or nice?

Fire from the Sky

Wildfires have been burning  in Sowth Gawjuh and Nawth Flawda this week with an accompanying loading of the atmospheric aerosols and shift in prevaling winds. Meanwhile, late June levels of local temperature make one wonder just how rapid global warming is anyway?

A recent study in the United Kingdom indicates that something of order 0.39 of bloggers there are at risk of detrimental action ranging from being pink slipped through defamation litigation.[Link] The think with the Tudor robed minions of justice has a bit less bite to it since it has to be proven that the comments were libelous that is that they were false. This, of course, points to the partial anachronism that only the legal and religious instrumentalities use the idea of truth and falsehood. Of course, the basis of truth is indeed religious and therefore appropriate in those organizations, but it is somehow ludicrous that the legal wonks still cling to the idea at all. Of course, if they didn’t then perhaps people would also question the other imperfections of the system as well.

Nonetheless, there is the necessity of demonstrating that the blogger’s statements are not accurate. The resolution basically turns on the government’s agenda at the instant. But more serious is the threat of being discharged from one’s job for saying anything about one’s employer, accurate or not. A righteous question raised is whether, in the Yankee republic, the laws protecting whistle blowers applies?

That this is serious is demonstrated by the actions of administration at Keele U to threaten students with legal action if they continue to comment on staff failing on the internet.[Link] Since this is academia issues such as accuracy and civil rights are irrelevant. Students after all are supposed to limit their activities to getting good grades and paying their tuition. Nothing must ever be done that might reduce the university’s cash flow.

At the same time, Dell is rushing from its relationship with Megahard to one with MalWart. The first PCs with Linux preinstalled go on sell today, but apparently only on Dell’s web site.[Link] Next month, MalWart will start selling Dell machines in their stores.[Link] Apparently the boxes offered will only be available with Windows, which raises the questions of whether Dell thinks Megahard customers are not intelligent enough to use Linux or Megahard thinks their customers are not intelligent enough to buy a PC with Linux installed?

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the rearrangements of floor space in the local MegaHard Inferior Store. Right now the computer section – one aisle of about twenty-five feet – is dominated by HP computers and a variety of almost obsolescent networking devices. Will HP lose shelf space or will the section be expanded? The World Wonders.

Not only will this matter disrupt the ungentle giant of Greater Metropolitan Arab commercialism, but one may anticipate a disruption in the educational solidarity as well. The folks at university have made some good strides in adapting to the idea that they can’t require everyone to use a Mac or a PC. Now it would seem to be an encroaching impact on the local level as well.

I wish them luck. About two weeks ago the Arab Computer Club had an impromptu demonstartion on UBUNTU and the response was dismal. I have seen Monday morning chemistry lectures, right after homecoming, that had more response. Given the general knowledge demonstrated by the local academics about IT, we can expect the introduction of Linux into the local shuls to make for interesting times.

Scared?

Apparently Megahard is undergoing a bit of a crisis. First they announced litigation against the open source cabal, notably the Linux League and the Open Office Oozination, for trespassing their patents. Now, they are declining to identify the patents infringed. [Link]

The speciousness of this litigation is emergent. There is obviously some issue with whether a claim of patent infringement is valid if the alleged infringer makes no profit from the activity and the complainant loses no revenue – except that spent on the litigation. But to fail to identify which patents have been infringed? Memory serves that there is a Salem in Oregon so Megahard can relocate headquarters there so they can more faithfully conduct a witch hunt, which is the rapidly forming shape.

Reinforcing this apparency is announcement that the next version of Windows will be a radical departure from VISTA. The “new” Windows will allegedly be based on the use of multicore processors that are themselves emergent. Does anyone out there recall Pournelle’s dictum about multiple processors per user?

An interesting aspect of the latter is that multiprocessor machines have been around for many years, and the premiere programming language for most of them is some variant on FORTRAN. Now FORTRAN is still appreciated by folks who only want to crunch numbers but disdained as stinking pond scum by those who find flashy GUI and inadequate mental capacity to be integral aspects of coding. But I do have to admit to not wanting to write a word processor or spreadsheet client in FORTRAN. Maybe we can resurrect ADA? Or perhaps the sales of single shot revolvers will climb?

But returning to the former, we have to perceive that Megahard is running a bit hard. As hardware converges, even the fruit people are using the discriminatorily segregated Intel processor now, the choices of what OS to run are becoming less based on the substantial hardware investment and more by the software investment. For those whose software needs run to a browser, e-mail client (if at all), and an office suite with minimal capabilities, there is no implicit choice of OS.

Even for those whose needs runs a bit deeper – a particular software client or two – the rise of virtualization also smears the choice. If one is wedded to certain fixed programs and can segregate them and their OS from most threats, then there is no need for a new version of that old OS, just the ability to run it and thereby those particular clients in a virtual machine and have limited connectivity to the exterior (real) OS.

The economics of this are astounding. If one can support the common applications in open software and OS, then the cost of acquisition reduces to the cost of training support staff. Then one need only maintain a limited cadre for those specific application that some need to run in virtualization on an old version of some OS. If all we worry about is dollars, then Megahard is in a world of hurt with its most fundamental customers.

City Day

Abu Hureya [Link] is one of a handful of people living concentrations found that predate the end of the last major cold phase. As such they are in excess of 13 KY old. In fact, Abu Hureya is notable on being two concentrations, one Hunter-Gatherer and the other early agricultural.

Why do we care? Because supposedly [Link] more of the humans on the planet will be residing in cities (urbs) than in rural areas. Most of the Yankee republic passed this transition years ago, but today is the predicted day that the city dwellers outnumber the rustics for Tellus as a whole.

Who Pee Stercus! I am never quite sure if living inside the city limits of Greater Metropolitan Arab qualifies me as an urbanite or a rustic. My house sits on something more than an acre of ground but the local guvmint makes sure that I have the grass, such as it is, mowed often or they will come in and mow it for me at an outrageous fee. I am connected to electricity, cable, natural gas, and water – two way on the latter, and I am supposed to keep my nonexistent dog on a lease or inside a fence but almost none of my neighbors do so and so my grass is not infrequently fertilized.

I do not raise any large animals although there are two horse farms within a half kilometer of my house. In fact, one of them abuts the local high shul, which may be the kindest thing I can say about local education. I do not own any bib overalls, nor a straw hat, nor even a grass mowing lawn tractor, the latter at the pleasure of FD SCP who finds my penchant for doing contour integrals mentally while lawn mowing to be irresponsible and dangerous.

But I am still unsure of whether I am considered to be rustic or urbanite.

Today is also the day that Dell is supposed to start selling PCs with UBUNTU as the installed OS. [Link] Another Whoo Pee! This is not rocket science, or even technically difficult.

Yesterday, in response to the problems of trying to keep Windows running on several PCs, and a more than usually unpleasant experience with the local MalWart, I came home, swapped out the hard drives on my secondary laptop – a Dell Inspiron 8600 – and installed UBUNTU.

I should comment that I had been exploring compatibility off and on for a month with a CD boot  of UBUNTU on this machine, and about a week ago purchased a  virginal, well, unsullied at least, hard drive – drawer combination for the machine. So yesterday I took out the drive-drawer with WINDOWS XP on it and slid in the new drive-drawer.

Within 15 minutes I was up and surfing the web via my home wireless network. Then I was interrupted with an update. Surprise! No mandates, increasingly intransigent, to reboot. Indeed, the whole update was not only rebootless but rapid and painless. (Yes, Virginia, one could say it was also the opposite of bootless, but that presumes one knows the other meaning of the term.)

This step was taken with considerable trepidation and consideration. The Darwinian nature of Linux is both famous and infamous, [Link] especially in our society where the practice of IT has steadily been the dumbing down of both users and professionals. Certainly this seems a far cry from the density of automobile tweaking citizens when I was a youngster. But people who undertake much more complicated construction and combustion engine endeavors are as timid as storybook rabbits around their computers.

But then, I can recall using the magic word “calculus” to scare off business majors when I was an undergraduate.

Absence

While a blog is individual, I recognize that there are a few gracious, intelligent, and patient folks out there who do come and read my mumblings. Such have been sparse the last couple of days.

This has not been due to any lack of inclination to blog but rather decisive engagement with two rather ill behaved and ill mannered pieces of software that have disrupted my primary working PC. I probably shouldn’t mention the software but their manufacturers are Adobe and Computer Associates.

A murrain on both their houses and all who reside therein.

IP Timelines

There is a comment in the CNET feed this morning on a New Yawk Times editorial advocating indefinite copyright. [Link] At issue here is how long a copyright (or a patent) should last.

Insofar as copyright goes, I have no objection to paying a reasonable price for the information. What I object to is something being copyright and thereby unavailable because it is not economical to have it available in print but the holder of the copyright retains anyway, denying anyone else access to the information.

Herein I would now advance a proposal. Let copyright be contingent on the work being available in the marketplace. As a simplification, so long as a work (book, e.g.) is in print and available throughout the land, then the copyright is valid. But once the work ceases to be commercially available, the copyright lapses.