Out of Area

The blog this morning is coming from the customer lounge at the Huntsville – Nawth Alibam’s Shining City of the Hill – Honda dealer. I had to bring in my Element for a recall, something about the gauges selfdestructing. So I aMetropoliutaner m taking the opportunity to do a bit of a road test with my Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop that I have now configured with Ubuntu.

The OS found the local wireless networks easily and did not even blink when I told it to log onto the lounge node. There are about a dozen subnets/nodes out there but the lounge one is unlocked. Minimal security in this time of challenge, but refreshing to see even this modicum from a business – one of the reasons that I tend to place trust in this one.

The latest purchase, the Element, has been a bit of a disappointment. It incorporates an automated maintenance system whose user interface is abominable. It completely overcorrects on the side of sheer idiocy that could be converted into a conspiracy theory that Honda is deliberately trying to wreck its own product by ignorance/oversight of maintenance need. It also lacks any buffers at floor level, so I learned the first time back from the grocery stores – has to be multiple because of the diet my cardiologist has me on, and Greater Metropolitan Arab is out with the grocery marketplace dominated by MalWart and their cash flow food stockage policy – and a can got loose from its sack. So I got to drive along the top of Brindlee mountain – up and down – with a can of vegetables rolling unimpeed from front to back. Needless to say the air was a bit blue with words – Latin seemed to be especially relevant for some reason – and as soon as I got home I figured out fow to rectify this design feature.

Mundane Observations

Last night was a striking example of the joys of global climate change. A cold front with an extremely intense sheer edge swept across Nawth Alibam. [Link] From what I can ascertain from the traditional media, its intensity had diminished considerably by the time it got to Greater Metropolitan Arab. With this joyous night in mind, I feel that the vagaries of the morning feeds may be addressed.

There is an article in Discover, entitled “Stupid Word of the Month: Barn” [Link] that somehow manages to quite accurately and succinctly capture how the traditional media fail to “get” science and scientists. The “Barn” in this case is not a building for the storage of agricultural products or producers (hay or cows,) but a unit of measure. In this case, the barn has a value of 1E-28 m^2. This is an area and if we think of it as a square, then the square has sides that are 1E-14 m long, which is clearly not visible to the human eye, even with optical assistance. That’s because the human eye is sensitive to light in the range of 0.3 to 0.7 microns (another unit of measure) approximately. A micron is 1E-6 m, so the side of this square is much too small for light of this wavelength to interact very much with under normal conditions. These dimensions however do pretty well jibe with the semiclassical representation of the nuclei of atoms. Hence the barn is a pretty good fit for the area of the nucleus of an atom.

The name incidentally was derived from the then popular catch phrase “As big as a barn”. The humor of scientists, especially physicists, is rather well known, especially to anyone who has studied the standard model of particles and has had to deal with charm and flavor as characteristics of particles. Humor aside, the point here is that physicists, and all scientists to some degree, tend to invent units to allow them to represent often used quantities simply. If one is a nuclear physicist dealing with these areas (cross section) it is more concise to talk about a 1.25 barn cross section than a 1.25E-28 meter-squared cross section. And given that they are dealing with stuff that can level cities or make people glow in the dark, anything that helps avoid mistakes is clearly not stupid.

This invention is so important that it is stated policy of scientific organizations, such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and their sister organization for Chemistry. The basic rule is that, whenever possible, one uses units that keep the range of numbers used between 0.1 and 10. If you think this is confusing consider how confusing it is when medical professionals, who I observe doing this all the time, talk about dosages measured in thousands of milligrams. The scientifically proper was would be to use grams (in this case,) but for some reason these professionals seem unable to adapt.

I note that Dell is shuttering its mall kiosks. [Link] While the author of the article speculates that this is because Dell is now embedded in the Big Box stores, one has to wonder if this has anything to do with all the folks who got busted boxes from the Kiosks and took Dell into local small claims court for resolution. It strikes that this tactic may be a good nuisance tactic with MalWart, at least for those inclined to urban guerrilla tactics.

Meanwhile, the Engadget folks are bemoaning the upcoming sunset date for XP. [Link] Somehow I doubt June 30 will ever come. If MegaHard really is cutting its losses on Vista, the demand for that product is going to slump universally. So what is MegaHard going to offer to keep a presence in the marketplace until Windows 7 gets past early adoption – assuming it does? Obviously, MegaHard is not going to surrender the PC market to Linux and Apple, are they?

I note that the counter guerrilla of copyright, Lawrence Lessig, has managed to retrieve his The Future of Ideas from the clutches of his publisher. [Link] The book, now a bit dated but still a stirring pot of ideas – the pun was emergent, I attest! – and worth a read. If you can figure out how to read it. After all, that’s the fundamental problem with ebooks and all Amazon’s Kindle did was illuminate that situation. Quick, my kingdom for epaper!

And lastly, recall that spy satellite that’s supposed to splat down the end of next moth or first of the following? Well now the Yankee air corps is starting to say it might splat in the Yankee republic. [Link] That’s probably better than it splatting on someone else, especially given what happens when out air corps bombs embassies. But we have to wonder how definite this rhetoric will get as time to impact shortens? If this a case of little toe in the water first?

Where Dirt Comes From

Politics is apparently almost as fundamental to human nature as is reproduction. We find politics in any persisting group of humans, however informal, and however small but more than one. However, like reproduction, we have some expectations of what the associated behavior is and should be.

Naturally, we expect rather less of the behavior of professional politicians, just as we do of those professionally associated with human reproduction. This period of jockeying for the candidacy for the chief executive position has demonstrated no end of rancor and misbehavior. This has been most pronounced among the (modern) democrats where it appears that the nice guy has no hope of being more than a spear carrier and the central contention is between the wicked witch of the Ozarks and the dupe of Massachusetts machine politics.

I note however that this nastiness has even extended to the current occupant of the office. Apparently the poohbahs of Southern Methodist U disdain the presence of Bush the Younger’s presidential library on their hallowed, and sanctified campus. [Link] The opposition seems to arise less from any objection based on Mr. Bush’s own antipathy for academia – indeed, it came as a surprise that the library was planned for a campus – but surprisingly from those who raise religious opposition to “Mr. Bush’s War”.

It is often said that the surest way to tell if a politician is lying is to observe whether his mouth is moving. The justification for this is that everything a politician says is false and self serving in some form. A corollary to this is that most politicians are incapable of thinking without unconsciously forming the words so that even when they are not talking their mouths are moving. Opponents of this theory cite valid concerns over whether professional politicians possess the ability to think.

In this regard we associate certain classes of prevarication with political affiliation: any rhetoric from a (modern) republican about the rights of individuals is vacuous of any accuracy; similarly, and statement by a (modern) democrat on tax reduction. To this we may obviously add any remarks by organized religious figures about war. If one compares the Christian bible with any five books on warfare, the latter are highly deficient in sanguinity in comparison.

Perhaps these individuals should take the Palouse earthworm as a role model? [Link] This slimy subterranean dweller is noted for its expectoration, characteristics in common with most professional politicians. But unlike them, it is rare and rarely seen, which is probably why it is so much more likable.

Saber Toothed Bunny Rabbit

It appears that MegaHard has had an attack, or given the size of the organization, more of an epidemic, of reality. I read in an on-line eWeek article [Link] that MegaHard is cutting its losses with Vista and is beginning to exude nerd-foreplay-talk of Windows 7.

My immediate thought here is that MegaHard appears to be returning to a practice of numbering OS editions. This served them in fair stead in past up thought NT. Certainly XP was not an absolute disaster although it is definitely lacking in usability when compared to the earlier 2000. In this case the excursion to yearage, akin to how they designate Office disaster events, may be partly excused, especially considering the excitement over the millennium. It is even touching that they, like so many, got the year wrong.

But the substantive derivative thoughts have to do with what MegaHard is going to have to accomplish here. Obviously, this is not a new phenomena for MegaHard. Recall the debacle of ME. But the bar has been raised considerably here and it is not at all clear that MegaHard has the energy to leap that bar.

Quite obviously, W7 is going to have some rather strenuous and real requirements. It is going to have to be at least as fast as XP, and run on XP hardware. It is going to have to have real security aspects, not the Potempkinisms of VISTA. It is going to have to accommodate both Open Source and Virtualization advances that are going to overtake its delivery. This means that W7 is going to have to be a much more open OS than recent versions of Windows, accommodating more than just MegaHard and minions’ software. And MegaHard is also going to have to abandon its vision that the only thing running in virtual machines on Windows is more Windows. Why, they may even have to accommodate the idea of Windows in a virtual box on Linux.

So we shall see how much of this MegaHard can deliver, because failure to carry through on this will not be a pleasant option. MegaHard can also be a General Motors.

Mundane Observations

A recent poll finds that the most common thing purchased on-line is books. [Link] This is a matter for some consideration. I suspect that books are a popular commodity on-line because they do not come in different sizes (paper versus hard bound does not count) and they have a sufficiently long shelf life as to have some satisfyingly high probability of arrival before decomposition. Still, I wonder how folks pick their books? I have read that among avid readers – which account for something of the order of 0.25 of literate humanity, with 0.5 being occasional or mundane readers and the remaining being people who read only when there is money involved – something on the order of half their book purchases are snap decisions. Now I can identify with this. When I wonder about a brick and mortar book store I tend to buy books that I was not seeking. But so many of the good brick and mortar bookstores are being destroyed by the big box book stores like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Books 10^6.

In this regard however, I have noticed that when I know the book I want, I tend to purchase that book on-line. This practice started because the books I read tend to be highly specialized or not big sellers. How long has it been since a real physics book – and I don’t mean the physics of Star Trek here – made any best seller list except the one in Physics Today? So rather than go to a brick and mortar bookstore, ask for a book, be told its not in stock, let them order it, and have to come back when it comes in, I just order over the web. And yes, I have to pay shipping as well as tax, but I don’t have to deal with the people in the brick and mortar book store. That is not to say that these people are any worse than the ones in the old neighborhood book stores, but their priorities are not to help customers, at least the customers who are in the store. If you are talking to one of these clerks and the phone rings, they will answer the phone. 1.000000000 of the times the phone rings. And while they have access to a computer data base of the store inventory (accuracy evidently pretty poor incidentally), which customers may not have access to (why?) they have absolutely no better idea of what section of the store a book will be in than the average customer. So if one wanders about looking for a book for an hour, and then asks a clerk, one is treated to following them around on another random walk of an hour unless the database says they do not have the book. In the first case I usually walk away muttering uncomplimentary things about the organization and its member-employees. In the second, I am now trapped into another hour, largely due to the process being punctuated by a dozen phone calls of infinitely higher priority, of ordering the book. Then I get to wait for a phone call and another trip to the brick and mortar store. Which is why I order books I know the citation on-line, and why I am rather glad books do not go bad like food.

On which topic, namely of brick and mortar book stores and their employees, I note that new information indicates that Bubonic Plague has a higher probability of killing weak people than strong people. [Link] Much as I hate to note that this falls into the obvious, common sense category for anyone with some inkling of how the human system operates, it is always comforting when science proves something.

In which vein, we note that his holiness, the bishop of Rome, has denounced the “seductiveness of science”. [Link] Let’s see, we have religion characterized by blind unquestioning acceptance of what other people tell you and an opportunity to pay these people for the privilege while science is characterized by a mandate of questioning and testing the accuracy and validity of everything. Yes, I can see how that eternal uncertainty is highly seductive, especially to people who actually want to think for themselves. Or is it actually a matter of being forbidden to think and question that is repugnant to those people?

Perhaps we could get an opinion on this from the inhabitants of Finland, Poland, Slovenia and Hungary. Why these nationalities? Well, the use of Firefox in these four countries exceeds 0.4. Of course, selecting Firefox over the MegaHard browser may have nothing to do with good sense or resisting blind obedience.

And while we’re on divergence, some researchers have now placed the divergence of the platypus from anteaters to 120 MYA. [Link] The previous, usual figure was of order 30 MYA. This is very encouraging news. If the platypus can be around that long perhaps there is hope for humans. Oh! But platypuses (?) don’t overheat their environments, do they. Down side to intelligence perhaps?

Another evidence of that downside is some recent findings that medical insurance co-pays for mammograms is having a negative effect. [Link] Evidently having to shell out for the test is causing many women to decline or forgo the tests, and the data indicate this decision is irrespective of individual income. This is a bit of a mixed bag. The good side of this is that those women predisposed to breast cancer early in life will tend to be removed from the reproductive population before they can pass on their genes, which is about as nasty and horrible as a good side gets. The bad side is that a lot of women are hastening their deaths or setting themselves up for a nasty bout of treatment and recovery that could be avoided or ameliorated. And the cost of that is about the order of magnitude of a meal? Sorry, you don’t see me asking my physician what he charges when it comes time for me to be told “bend over and grab your ankles”. Intelligent life on Tellus indeed.

Band Wagon

I noted as we entered the winter solstice holidays season – Pilgrim Diversity day, Giftmas Day, the solstice itself, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Boxing day, whatever – that the suddenly popular Asus Eee, which actually made some sense as opposed to the Amazonian Kindle, which made sense as a device but not as a money pit, would flood the marketplace with clones by the Spring Equinox holiday season.

I note first today that Everex and MalWart have deferred shipping of the Cloudbook until the Ides of February. [Link] Despite its incorporation of a 30 Gb hard drive, I am somewhat skeptical of the beast, and that it can only be procured on-line means no chance of hands on electronic tire kicking until someone in the neighborhood shows up with one. Of course given the almost total dominance of Greater Metropolitan Arab’s economy by MalWart, this will likely not be too long in coming.

Notably, there is another article, [Link] a puff piece with the substance of spun sugar candy – called cotton candy here in the old Confederacy – that MSI is developing an Eee clone. So the question is whether this is a captain or a king converging?

Next, there is a more substantive announcement of an Eee clone from Maxdata. [Link] This one sports Windows XP instead of Linux as the OS and a corresponding price tag more than twice that of the Eee. This prompts speculation over whether the differential value of XP over Linux is of order $400? Perhaps to crapmind computer illiterates, which so far as I can tell here in Nawth Alibam is a large fraction of the user population, largely due to their reduction to serf-smurfs by irresponsible information support staffs and type 3 organizational managers.

Conspicuous by their absence are the manufacturers we want to hear from HP, Dell, and maybe Acer. It strikes however that the old management saw, based on some pretty simple maths, that the reaction time of an organization scales as the square of its size (in number of members.) Add to that that these folks do not currently have an environmental presence very close to this niche – there is a big gap here between PDAs and seventeen inch diagonal laptops – and we may have to come to the conclusion that these giants of the computer industry are just too dinosaur slow to make a showing in this new marketplace by spring.

The Eyebrow Raises

Back when Leonard Nimoy acted the character Spock on the original Star Trek, intrigue and whimsy was indicated by a raised eyebrow. Such behavior is entirely human although there was a generation who accepted that such was acceptable. I note in this morning’s articles several such.

The English, those lovable folks who departed our Yankee republic with less than pleasantness, have granted degree granting rights to several industrial organizations, including the fast food/slow death giant McDonald’s. [Link] One has to wonder if the intent is to offer diplomas in Happy Meals? From the perspective of one who spent almost twenty years of his career as a personnel selecting official – that’s Yankee government talk for someone who picks from among candidates to fill job vacancies in the organization – I am not at all sure that I should consider McDonald’s certifications as being any better than their food is healthy. But then except for those brief periods when they execute monarchs, the English are noted for irrational behavior.

I note that the third Kennedy, the one who drowns young women and largely subsists on the caloric content of ethanol, has endorsed one of the numerous (modern) democrat candidates for the candidacy for the chief executive job. [Link] Now I know that politicians are known for their consistently immoral and unethical behavior but this transcends that. Would it not have been kinder to inflict this poor individual with tertiary syphilis? Or the death of a thousand cuts?

And while we are on the subject of inflicting undue and particularly ghastly fates on people, I note an article in the Washington Times – apparently with a lame duck chief executive giving his state of the Yankee union speech they have no other news to promulgate – that the wireless reception aerials on automobiles are becoming a thing of the past. [Link] This is not a new occurrence although it may be that such disconnection from reality is common to modern traditional media, or perhaps, even hopefully, it is limited to such organs as the Times.

I have not owned an automobile in over ten years that had one of the old antennas made of cylinders of metal each fitting inside the previous. My now eleven year old CRV had a single cylinder antenna, about a fourth of a meter long that extended – manually – from a well built into the driver’s side windshield pillar. And ever time I drove the thing back from service at the dealer, I would get about half way back to Greater Metropolitan Arab before the degradation of wireless quality reminded me to lower the window and reach out and up and re-extend the antenna that had been collapsed by the crew who washed the vehicle after service. My newer Element has a fixed aerial of about half that length. The patent indication is that adequate wireless signal quality can be sensed without large antennas. Indeed, the only ones of the old extensible type I have are pointers for briefing on small screens. The pointer has a laser projector built in for large screens and one must take care to not engage the latter when one is using it in its former mode lest one remove organs from oneself.

In response to this reduction in required investment in antennas, I observe that a German foodstuffs retailer operating in England is selling kilts for something on the order of $30, somewhat less than ).1 of what they usually sell for. [Link] This whole matter cries out for greater consideration and analysis. Obviously, the main well springs of sanity balancing the English have been their peripheral peoples: the Welsh, the Irish, and particularly, the Scots. So one wonders if this is some sort of new Saxon invasion with the intent of bankrupting Scottish nationalism? Or just some effort by the mainland Europeans to inject their version of Green practices onto the sceptered isle?

Lastly, a team of French researchers working in Australia – can’t be because of the meat pies could it? – have confirmed that bacteria have been around on Tellus for about 3 BY. [Link] That’s B as in billion – 10^9 – 1000 million. This rather makes one wonder if intelligent life will ever evolve on the planet.