Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 347)

27 Jan 2003 (updated 27 Jan 2003 at 01:15 UTC) »
the inmates
So a funny thing is happening around the Heineman-Fleck house. Over the Christmas holiday I read The Inmates are Running the Asylum, an interesting book about technology design issues. And I guess I must have been yammering about it a lot around the house, because daughter Nora asked to read it when I was done.

Now she's engrossed in it, reading it at the breakfast table and sneaking reads in her biology class when the teacher gets boring.

In retrospect, I should have guessed that Nora would have a perfect brain for the kind of design issues Cooper talks about. She's a quintessential non-geek computer user, in that she uses the hell out of her computer, but with very specific tasks in mind, and very little interest in learning computing-for-computing's sake. To IM her friends, she's downloaded and tested every single IM client, has accounts on all the major systems and knows their ins and outs in detail, but she's only interested in it insofar as it helps her IM better.

The first time I saw the GIMP, I thought, "Wow, cool," and explored its nooks and crannies for their own sake. When Nora wanted to make pictures, she got the GIMP and figured out how to use it, but only 'cause it met a specific need. It's a totally different mind set, and I think our relationship with technology would be far better if there were more people like Nora in charge.
While much of the United States is freezing its ass off, it's so warm here that we're having a false spring - I'm having hay fever already! More here. (And I've been gettng a lot of miles in on my bike as a result.)
I forgot to blog this here, a fun piece I wrote earlier this month:
Technology has finally caught up with Albert Einstein.

Eighty-eight years after Einstein first laid out the Theory of General Relativity, scientists have finally tested one of its central predictions about gravity.

The result?

The tousle-haired genius, whose ideas helped define our modern world, was spot on.

Using a New Mexico-based telescope, researchers Sergei Kopeikin and Ed Fomalont found that gravity's tug travels through space at the speed of light.

That is what Einstein, in a paper written in 1915, predicted.

"Einstein Proven Right" might not seem like a particularly surprising headline. But it is testament to the power of his ideas, scientists say, that nearly a century later researchers are still plumbing their depths.
docbook stuff
So fop turned out to be a little hairier than I thought because of the way we're using tables in a lot of our GNOME docs, but I was able to use it on the latest update of the libxml tutorial.

No tables there. That's one solution.
crowd size
raph: As I noted in response to a similar post by telsa last fall, crowd sizes are notoriously overestimated. I think your four square feet is extremely conservative. But it's at least reasonable to put an upper bound on crowd size.

Years ago, when I was a young journalistic whippersnapper in Pasadena, Calif., I tackled the Pasadena Police Department's traditional estimate of 1 million people along the Rose Parade route. I asked the cops how they came up with it year after year and they said they looked out the helicopter window and said it seemed pretty much like last year, and last year it was a million so it must be a million this year, too. Any idiot with a calculator can demonstrate how absurd that number is: 5-1/2 mile parade route, both sides of the street, that's 58,080 feet of parade route. One row of people standing 18 inches apart, up one side and down the other, is 38,720 people.

The 18 inch assumption is too conservative - people don't pack that tightly together. But even with that assumption (and subtracting 100,000 people in grandstands) you'd have to have a crowd 23-plus rows deep to get to a million. If you look at the parade route, the crowd is rarely more than 5 rows deep. Twenty-five rows wouldn't fit on the sidewalk. So we went out and actually did our own crowd counts and made our own estimates, and concluded it was around 300,000, and likely less.

Every year, I eagerly read the Rose Parade story out of Pasadena. Every year, the cops estimate the crowd size at a million. My work, apparently, was for naught - except I love retelling the story at parties. And I learned a lesson. Now when I'm covering anything like that, I try mightily to actually do a rigorous count/estimate, rather than asking the organizers or the cops.
I've been procrastinating over installing fop and getting it running, because it has such a hairy reputation. Once I got the right java toolkit installed it was really pretty straightforward, though. Robert Stayton's howto stuff is terrific. I still need to get a better handle on the customization issues, but now I can make pdf's from docbook source in a relatively straightforward two-step process with some control over the results. Looks way better already than my previous results using a jade wrapper script.
accept no substitutes
Do not substitute the Velostat shielding with other materials. The Velostat made by 3M works!
I was in microbiology lab talking to a genetics researcher the other day when he pointed to a big freezer on one side of the tiny room. "We've got 50,000 human genes in there," he explained.

I can't explain exactly why, but I thought a freezer full of human genes was pretty darn cool.
goodbye to the muffler man?
Can it be?
I'm renouncing my fixation on all roadside attractions.
I always loved this:
Another good bit is to rent a safe deposit box (only about $7.00 a year) in a bank using a phony name. That usually only need a signature and don't ask for identification. When you get a box, deposit a good size dead fish inside the deposit box, close it up and return it to its proper niche. From then on, forget about it. Now think about it, in a few months there is going to be a hell-of-a-smell from your small investment. It's going to be almost impossible to trace and besides, they can never open the box without your permission. Since you don't exist, they'll have no alternative but to move away. Invest in the Stank of Amerika savings program. Just check out Lake Erie and you'll see saving fish isn't such a dumb idea. If you get caught, tell them you inherited the fish from your grandmother and it has sentimental value.
Good to see it's been "stolen" and put on line.
Nora took some sort of test at school in an effort to determine possible career options. The test suggested two options - a member of the clergy or a pastry chef. Lissa and I were surprised on both accounts, as she has shown no apparent interest in (or aptitude for) either.
To avoid having to repeat this (keeps coming up on IRC), yes, I know that gman is rewriting gdialog. The current version will be around for a while, and whatever he comes up with will be similar enough that rewriting the docs for it shouldn't be much strain.

Weekend draft here. Feedback encouraged, since I don't actually use this thing.
I stopped procrastinating over the last couple of days and began rewriting the documentation for gdialog, the little shell scripting dialog goober in GNOME. The docs are a little thin now and have been needing a reworking, but since I don't really do shell scripting with any great facility (another thing I'm ass at), I've been avoiding the task. But like anything else, once I start learning, I find that learning is fun, and now I'm caught up.
wavelet analysis
Anyone in the audience who knows wavelet analysis, drop me a line. I don't, but need to. I'm trying to read a paper that uses it in analyzing tree ring data to understand long-range climate trends. This matters.
fish story
Beware the lowly anchovy. A recent Pacific population explosion of the little food fish might be a harbinger of decades-long drought in the Southwest.

Pacific anchovy and sardine populations are like canaries in the climate coal mine, tipoffs that major changes are afoot, according to a paper published today in the journal Science.

Sardines have meant wet spells in the Southwest, while anchovy population explosions in the past have coincided with long-term drought.

Francisco Chavez, a biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and his Science co-authors tracked the ebbs and flows of sardine and anchovy populations through the 20th century, linking the fish to large-scale climate swings.

They say a new "anchovy regime," as they call it, is here.

6 Jan 2003 (updated 6 Jan 2003 at 03:08 UTC) »
I'll call it "the Fritz problem".

At least once a week, my friend and co-worker Fritz comes over to my desk, sheepishly, to ask for my help with a computer problem.

Fritz is in his 60s, and is a very talented journalist. He's been writing as long as I've been alive, and when he's on his game he has a deft touch with language, scene and setting that I envy. He's a ranch boy, grew up in a small community on the northeastern plains of New Mexico, which means he also has a sensibility that we city kids lack. I say this by way of explaining that he is important and valuable in ways that should be nurtured and encouraged.

For writing stories at the newspaper at which I work, we use a venerable old word processor called Xywrite. We started using the DOS-based version a decade ago, and smartly stayed with it. It has the virtue of using ASCII as its standard data storage format, and it is profoundly customizable. Our systems team and technology editor long ago customized it in very precise ways to manage our copy flow and it continues to work flawlessly. It lacks all the featuritus that has crept up on the word processing world, but if what you want to do is type and store words, it's a champ.

Fritz has mastered Xywrite, not with any enthusiasm but with enough doggedness to allow him to write his stories for the newspaper. But invariably the computer flummoxes him. He has a very simple task he wants to do - write stories. The computer has extraordinarily complicated capabilities. He needs none of them. But despite his best efforts, the unneeded, unwanted complexity constantly assaults Fritz. Some unexpected key combination or mouse click intended to offer some complex function to a power user, leaves Fritz unable to do the simple thing. It places the computer in what is, from Fritz's point of view, and unusable state - the window he needs minimized in some way he doesn't understand, perhaps, the file sent to some place he doesn't understand. Solving the problem requires knowledge of the computer itself, not the task Fritz is trying to solve.

Like the example I diarized a few days ago involving the timer on the stove, this is a clear example of a case in which the computer has made the job at hand harder, not easier. The timer example was just a minor annoyance, but the Fritz problem is serious, because this makes Fritz feel stupid. That is wrong. I keep trying to explain to him that the people who wrote the software are stupid, but he doesn't believe me.

338 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!