Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 353)

7 Feb 2003 (updated 7 Feb 2003 at 20:27 UTC) »
Lewis and Clark
In which I finally get up the nerve to write what I really think. It's here.

My bottom line on the meaning of the Columbia crash:
A newspaper colleague compared the shuttle astronauts to Lewis and Clark, but that is bad metaphor. Lewis and Clark were the vanguard for a huge wave of settlers who followed. The astronauts have been nothing more than a vanguard for a bunch more little Lewis and Clark-like expeditions.
(updated to include free link)
GNOME 2.2 Diaries
It's done. We're proud. I'm especially proud of this (scroll down to the Image Viewer screenshot - that's my pop, and special thanks to jdub for leaving it in when he redid the screenshots to make 'em pretty).
dancing bearware
The "dancing bearware" metaphor in Alan Cooper's The Inmates are Running the Asylum has provided a lot of traction lately for the discussions I've been having with daughter Nora about computers and why they largely suck. Cooper's point is that a lot of software is like dancing bears - they dance poorly, but we're so inured that we're just excited that they dance at all.

So eight years ago I would have been all excited by this: "Wow, look what they can do with Java!" But really, why not just put up a couple of static pages with a list? Or if you really need to be fully clever, a little php glue to a database? This is dancing bearware.
need a nap?
My boss, standing by his desk across the room, in a loud voice to no one in particular:

"There's nothing worse than talking to yourself, except talking to yourself real loud."

Lest y'all think I only bike, write and play at free software....

books and music

My sister, Lisa, gave me Richard Brettell's Modern Art 1851-1929 for Christmas, an astute gift. I've been intrigued with the art revolution of the early 20th century since Lisa, Lissa and I saw a show back in the 1980s at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of a collection of work from the Hermitage. It had Picasso's Three Women, and I was blown away. It's a big painting, muscular, agressive, full of arrogance. There were these big Matisse's in the show, too, and I tried to write about the show afterwards and did so poorly and I've been tinkering with the ideas involved ever since.

Lissa (my wife, not a misspelling of my sister's name) at some point soon after pointed me to Cezanne, where you can see the shapes on a landscape hillside trying to break free like cubism waiting to happen, and she showed me Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a staircase - the ultimate artist's joke, cubism taken to its logical conclusion, as if Duchamp is gleefully washing his hands of the whole affair - "Well, that's done. What shall we try next?" And then there was one spectacular memorable afternoon in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, all by myself, where I found a Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gaugin, a Picasso and the great Duchamp and I could finally put them all together in sequence and feel like I understood how it happened, how one led to the next with an inevitability that brings us to today.

All this matters to me, because my aesthetic came of age in the 1970s, cut to rough form by exposure to my dad's painting from the cradle, honed to a sharp edge by years of anything-is-possible art that my teenage brain couldn't get itself around but loved. I am post-modern (please respect the hyphen) because I am of the generations after whatever modernism is.

But I don't understand modernism, of course. Brettell's book is helping, because he is towing me through the weeds of political, social and economic context - urbanization, global communication among artists, the new sciences of vision and light that were changing the way we perceived the way we perceived, and of course photography, which for some, and for a time, made painting seem irrelevent.

I meant to write about music, too. I've been digging some happening '50s Miles Davis/Gil Evans things, but I don't understand them either yet well enough to write very well about them. Something's up there, too, that helped shape the world I entered.
guttle (GUT-l) verb tr., intr.

To eat voraciously; to devour greedily.

[From gut, on the pattern of guzzle, from Middle English gut, from plural guttes (entrails), from Old English guttas.]

Now that's a great word
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.

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