I have to admit to reading cartoons. I also must admit to my taste in cartoons changing over the years and there are cartoons whose demise or absence I mourn like Bloom County and Helen. I also have to admit that from time to time I find the message in some comics less than clear.

This happened to me this weekend when I was reading Doonesbury. I have been reading Doonesbury since I was an undergraduate, at least partly because the original characters were undergraduates at the same time I was and some of their situations were identifiable to me. That identifiability has waxed and waned over the years, but it has struck enough near resonances for me to keep reading. I do have to admit that part of this strip is somewhat oblivious to me:

I find myself somewhat at a loss for what a belief tank is. Now, I have dealt with think tanks over my career, and have found often that many have neither thought nor doubt in any great measure. These are more often spin tanks where messages are crafted that seem to seem to provide academic or intellectual, even pseudo scientific, support for some political position or outlook.

The tank part refers to a work force of people whose credentials seem to be largely cosmetic and political and who spend a fair amount of their time in pseudo academic activities. As a rule they are almost entirely creatures of the District. The closest thing we have to a think tank in Greater Metropolitan Arab is the Arab Liars’ Club and Poke Salat Festival Committee, whose most demonstrative products are inaugurating new members and sponsoring the Annual Poke Salat Festival complete with Ugly Woman Contest. And an open microphone session for any local politicians desiring to speak at the price of being pelted with lumps of poke salat, which when cooked is somewhat slimy and unpleasant to feel, much like the message delivered by most politicians.

So, if we strip a think tank of its doubt, or uncertainty, and hence objectivity, would what remains be a seminary?

Vista of Vista

For those who are interested, there’s a gallery of screen shots of VISTA on WIRED.[Link] The pictures, while good, don’t convey any immediacy of purchase. In fact, the selection of the screens, about 0.20 of which are problems, are the most telling.

Let’s see, VISTA doesn’t work with HP printer. Hmmmm, is this another niche shut out? Is Megahard going into the printer business? And VISTA won’t play well with network or find shared drives.

Hopefully this is all growing pains and will get corrected by SP1. But for now it looks like the live-cd PCLinuxOS disk I’m playing with, and have yet to get it to talk to my network, has as much operability as VISTA.


Granular things have become an important part of contemporary physics, somewhat to the cosmologists and string theorists who would like to be the center of both the limelight and grant awards. However the rise of complexity, started in large part by Piers Bak’s work on how granular things tumble, has begun to come into its own, despite the dilution of all sorts of strange pseudo scientific strap hangers.

It is therefore interesting that Duke U researchers have some preliminary findings on why the granular materials sometimes clump and sometimes flow like liquids.[Link] Unfortunately the reportage has little substance and even comments on differences in shaking and stirring which will bring our the Ian Fleming fanatics.

But while we’re on flowing and clumping, the latest word from a Florida State U research indicates that the “Hobbits” of Flores are not microcephalics as previously indicated but a separate human species Homo florensis. Since current data indicates these folks were around until about 15KYA, this would mean they survived longer than neandertalensis.

Sadly, because they are extinct, we shall be unable to determine their behavior.

More Wonder Weapons

Back in 2003 when I was finishing up the first edition of The Physics of War, I included a chapter entitled “Death Rays and Wonder Weapons”. Lately, I have been seeing a lot of stuff in the feeds about such things – this morning there is a PHYSORG article entitled “Ray guns and plastic ice”.[Link] This article talk about the Yankee air corps’ heat beam, which I blogged on recently, and a DARPA thing call “plastic black ice”.

My blot on the heat beam is here.[Link] The idea of the plastic black ice is essentially the old cartoon sight gag of a suddenly extremely slippery surface. As I recall, this isn’t a new idea. I’ve seen a couple of experiments with crowd control “weapons” that made the surface too slippery to permit walking, or even creeping or crawling. One I recall from the ’80’s used an aqueous foam. In those days, the problem was the equipment needed to dispense the stuff was pretty big, usually somewhere on order of a small to medium sized fire engine. But then given DARPA’s reputation for remaking the nature of universal reality, at least in their official propaganda, I’m sure they’ll solve this critical shortcoming.

In the meantime, I’ll wait to see if they ask me for advice or just tell me they’ve decided to classify my certified for public release book.

Vista – Still Fogged In

Now that V day is here, the warts and cancers are emergent. One that was expected is that VISTA frutzes game play.[Link] I say expected because Megahard, all the way back to DOS, has always done things that are fundamentally antithetical to game needs of operation. Thus, even back in the good old days when floppies were 5.25″, hard drives were measured in MB, and all programs had to include drivers, one had to learn how to disable and tweak the OS to get the games to work – and usually reboot after the game was over to reset critical parameters.

Such behavior will not do in this modern world where WINDOWS is rock
stable and adamantine, even if it means that games sold by Megahard
itself will not operate. So much for Megahard peacefully cooperating
with the rest of the IT industry. Wonder how many companies will go
bankrupt from customer frustration before the Yankee government gets
around to investigating monopoly violations?

Interestingly, this type of conflict has always been excused by “security”, as I suspect this one will be. Invariably when we get deeper into it, it will likely emerge that the folks implementing the security measures either got lazy and threw out baby with bath water, or they got it wrong. Humans are inherently risk takers – that’s how come we can walk upright – and security folks are risk avoiders. They never lose sight of the fact that the most secure computer possible is one that isn’t turned on in a bank vault with no one allowed to use it.

On a somewhat more positive note, the head of Megahard in Norway has demonstrated VISTA running on a MAC.[Link] This in itself isn’t so much interesting as the opposite is intriguing. How about running the MAC OS on a PC? If VISTA will run on a MAC,since a MAC is basically just a slightly unusual PC these days, why can’t a normal PC run the MAC OS?

As for me, I am going to continue to experiment with LINUX and prospect for LINUX equivalents of my need-to-have programs.

Differences of Outlook

Ordinary Joe Consumer humans argue over important things like where to eat a meal, which NASCAR driver is best, or what (American) football team is the most capable. The proclivity, as one might expect, applies also to scientists. In this case, [Link] its the substance of the upcoming global warming report from the International Panel on Climate Change. The argument proper is over whether the sea rise in the next century will be less or more than a meter. It arises because the climate simulations don’t incorporate models for the melting of the arctic and antarctic ice masses.

This just goes to show that even scientists act human sometimes. In the meantime however, the Yankee government will continue to stonewall the whole matter as New York and San Francisco slide under the waves. But this pleases (modern) Republicans because it opens up so much new oceanfront property.

Another example of this is given by the founding within the U Pennsylvania Medical Shul of a Center for Spirituality and the Mind.[Link] Apparently the physicians have run out of things they can investigate to debunk homeopathy and chiropractic and are now going to work on faith healing? While we may admire the administrators’ courage in wrestling with the age old question of whether humans can do science on humans – that is can they be objective enough? – we also have to wonder about an activity that seems guaranteed to offend as many as possible, both religionists and real scientists.

Ex Anum Infantas

Sunday mornings have a different character to the news. A friend of mine who works newspapers once told me that about the refocus of the news coverage on Sunday to the religious, and the concern over the various ways of offending folks – those who observe Shabbat on Friday night or Saturday may be offended that the news coverage is on Sunday while the majority who observe on Sunday may be offended with the (to them) excessive coverage given to minor sects and heathen cults. I recall offering to solicit news items from the local Wicca and Druid groups to assure a more democratic representation just to watch him reach for a bottle of analgesic.

Nonetheless, one result is that some items creep through the media mill without proper grinding, giving them a different mental taste than on other days of the week. I note, for example, an article in the PHYSORG feed [Link] entitled “Washington Wakes Up to Global Warming”. Of course the article has nothing substantive to report but it does illustrate the cycle of reaction in large organizations:

  • initial awareness (called the ‘duhhhh” stage by some;)
  • denial of existence;
  • admission and debate;
  • planning and filibustering;
  • action introduction;
  • friction and disillusionment; and
  • announcement of victory and disengagement.

This gets us into the third stage. With the upcoming political elections, its not clear that this matter will survive even the early debates. Unpleasant reality is seldom as socially meaningful as political fiction.

The new version of WINDOWS (R), VISTA, is coming on sale for Joe Consumer today, and the warning of its problems are already emerging like the giant ants of “THEM”. Monkey Bites [Link] details how an early purchaser discovered VISTA wouldn’t let him have anti virus protection because it would interfere with the operation of the OS. Hmmm, more likely it will interfere with Megahard’s plans for IT domination.

I discovered one click down off the MSN home page this morning a major spread on WINDOWS LIVE One Care [Link]  advertising various security measures including anti virus. It emerges epiphanily that Megahard is shutting out the Symantecs and the Macafees so they can take over the anti virus marketplace. Hurray for IT ecology niche cleansing, the consumerism equivalent of racial purity.

More constructively, and obviously an error, is a reprint of a Popular Mechanics article from December on “The Digital Ice Age”. This [Link] is to the original article since the MSN posting is so ephemeral, especially once the web master gets reminded of how the content is a strong implied criticism of Megahard. The article details two aspects of the inherent fragility of our modern ITized world.

Since we store much of our original information in computer files, we run into two problems. One is mechanical in that recording media wear out. Hence, that hard drive on our computer will, not may, fail and carry all of our valuable original information with it. The modern equivalent of the act of nature destroying the home place.

This is relatively easy to fix with a bit of discipline, which makes it inherently anathematic to Joe Consumer, by never storing original information on the computer hard drive, and having multiple copies. The efficacy of using actual file names and suffixes, and keeping a log of file names, dates, contents, and locations is so self-obvious in this context that it is never practiced by Joe Consumer who prefers the cute graphical file icons that convey no distinguishing information of note but are another empty Megahard WINDOWS selling point. Hence my growing tendency to laugh like a Kim Possible villain when I am asked to assist in the resurrection of hard drives. Oh, how I love the smell of baked hard drive bearing grease in the morning.

Sadly, the second problem is more insidious – file creep. We generate new information and store it using the program we crated it in, which is reasonably current at the time. A couple of years later we need to access the file, try to do so with an updated version of the same program, and, lo!, can;t read the file because the program manufacturer has improved the file structure without bothering to give us notice or make provision for us to read our old files. After all, they’re not his files, are they? Should I comment that Megahard is one of the worst in this matter?

There is no good way to do anything about this. The best way is to only use file formats that have some life outside the memoryless, careless environment of software manufacturers, like ASCII. The second best is to only use software that has a read back capability (Did I mention that WordPerfect is a LOT better about this than WORD? Often the second best guys are better this way.) and periodically take all the old files and resave in new file formats – and make back up copies.

Incidentally, if the information lends itself to being saved in an ACROBAT-like file, there’s some slightly better alternative to inscribing the information on sheets of osmium or platinum. The Yankee government has coerced the ACROBAT people into implementing a publicly defined file format called PDF ARCHIVE or pdf/a. The ACROBAT people don’t advertise this very much because since the file format is archival and essentially fixed, and they have to implement ability to read it, now and tomorrow, if you use this file format you don;t need updated software as often. Hence, if you use the pdf/a format, they lose money. (Remember the fight between ACROBAT and MEGAHARD over the latter implementing a write directly to pdf?) So one way of preserving that information is to store it in this archival pdf format.

Incidentally, while we’re picking on Megahard, did I mention that VISTA is designed to reduce hard drive life? It implements a “feature” (reminiscent of the Edsel) that preloads into RAM pieces of programs you MAY use. Now since this fills up RAM, if you run a big program (and which ones aren’t these days?) and if RAM is occupied, you have to use Virtual RAM which is IT speak for HD space. Hence added wear and tear on the hard drive since its metric for failure is the number of bit level read/write events. And since RAM is full, the programs run slower. Who else but Magahard could make the equivalent of arteriosclerosis of the computer a selling point?