Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 360)

African Queen
There's a famous psychology experiment done by Elizabeth Loftus in which she exposed subjects to an ad showing Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, then asked them later if they remembered meeting Bugs at Disneyland. Lots said yes, even though Bugs is a Warner Brothers character never seen at Disneyland. It's a powerful testament to the weakness of memory and the strength of suggestion.

It comes to mind because last night Lissa and I watched The African Queen, the famous 1951 Hepburn and Bogart flick. Lissa really wanted to see it, but I was lukewarm, thinking I'd seen it before and didn't like it that much. But when we watched it, I realized I hadn't seen it. I'd seen a bunch of famous scenes from it - the two of them riding the rapids in the African Queen, and Hepburn pulling leaches off of Bogart's gaunt body. But I'd never seen the movie. (And it was a terrific film.)
I picked up Fooled by Randomness at the library last week. The book kept coming up in things I was reading, and I'm very interested in the idea that our ability to see patterns where none exist is a source of endless trouble (see, for example, the Kennedy assassinations). The book wasn't that great - interesting material, but overtly arrogant writing that got in the way - so I returned it yesterday.

But the author did share a fun tidbit that stuck - a Monte Carlo technique for calculating pi. It's a pretty simple principle, explained in some detail here. Draw a circle with radius r and a square around it with side length 2r. Generate random points inside the square, and keep a tally. The ratio of points inside the circle to the total number of points, times four, approximates pi for a sufficiently large number of iterations.

I have a longstanding personal tradition, dating back to my high school math teacher David Geisler, of calculating pi with a new computer, or when I start playing with a new language. So in honor of Mr. Geisler (I often wonder whatever happened to him), I offer this. It's not a terribly efficient way to calculate pi, but it was fun. I did 10 runs with 100,000 iterations each run, and came out with pi=3.140472 +/- .0065, which seems reasonable.
There's an odd technology back story to the death of my friend Martin, which I noted previously.

My daughter, Nora, is friends with Martin's grandson David. Word of Martin's death arrived at our house Monday evening via instant message from David to Nora. That such momentous news would enter our lives via AIM somehow validates the technology, removes any triviality one might have tried to apply to it.
I woke up yesterday morning looking for an excuse not to ride. It was my weekly "Jaime ride", which is always the toughest day on the bike, and the weather was ugly. I'm glad I didn't believe the excuse I found. It was a great ride.

The forecast had been for snow overnight, and I'd told Jaime the night before - snow on the ground, no ride. But instead it had been raining. It was raining and wet when I got up, still dark, and I figured I'd found my excuse. But when I looked at the weather radar, it seemed as though it was clearing out. I looked west (storms flow from the west) and could see clearing skies. So I called Jaime and said I'd make it.

As I was driving to Jaime's house, I was sure I'd made a mistake. A big new pile of clouds was pushing over from the west, rolling down over the lip of the mesa and onto Jaime's house. But I was committed, so I unpacked the bike and we rolled. I made him find us a back way out of his neighborhood and down to the river, off the busy street we usually take, because it was wet and grey and I didn't want to mess with cars.

As we came off the hill and down to the river, it was spectacular. The rain had stopped, and banks of clouds and fog and snow showers were moving over the valley and the foothills beyond, hiding and revealing our city before us. The air was thick with moisture, which is a great pleasure in the desert. And down by the river it smelled so good as we rolled down the trail by ourselves, no other cyclists, only an occasional walker, one hardy roller blader and a lot of puddles to dodge. No drafting on a day like that (I tried for a bit, until I got a glob of mud in my mouth from Jaime's back wheel) and our bikes and clothes were a filthy, muddy mess by the time we got home. It was delightful.
My neighbor and friend Martin died Monday evening. It is sad, but not unexpected, and a relief. He has been sick for a very long time, and has been preparing for his own death with a grim mixture of dignity, humor, realism and fear. Two years ago at his annual Fourth of July party, he wandered the backyard with a long oxygen line trailing him everywhere, very much the life of his own party. Last year, he had to sit most of the afternoon and evening, clearly exhausted, still trailing oxygen line, but very much more tired. The last time I saw him, a couple of weeks ago, he looked me square in the eye and told me it was frightening.
duct tape
dcm has helpful advice for those hoping to prepare for the coming apocalypse here.
bumper sticker
Nora spotted our new favorite bumper sticker on a pickup trucks this evening:
It took a moment for full amusement to set in.
There's an interesting new report from the National Academy of Sciences about the importance of freely sharing scientific data on which research publications is based. This seems basic to science, but there has been a great deal of friction of late because of the potential for conflict between the principles of the open academy and the profit potential of discoveries. The NAS report is an attempt to essentially use peer pressure to get folks to share. Significantly for the Advogato audience, it is addresses the issue of software when the software is central to the science.
Been deeply buried at work of late. This is one reason. It's an eminently local story for me, but the international reaction has been the most interesting bit. My favorite quote is in the Scottish Daily Record, from Labour MP Malcolm Savidge:
"They want to start a war in Iraq because Saddam is breaking the rules on weapons of mass destruction but, at the same time, they are covertly planning to break the rules themselves."
19 Feb 2003 (updated 19 Feb 2003 at 17:55 UTC) »
When I was five, I got to stand in Louis Leakey's tennis shoes. When I was in junior high, I got his autograph. This week I get to write about him.
war as a market-builder
This is fabulous:
Always err on the side of overkill. Actually, there is no such thing as overkill in a situation like this. Ideally, long form coverage is the way to go using a combination of local anchors/hosts and network updates and cutaways.

The initial hours of coverage are critical. People who have never listened to our stations will be tuning in out of curiosity, desperation, panic and a hunger for information. RIGHT NOW, convert them to P-1's, or at least make them a future cumer. We must make sure we meet their expectations, otherwise they're gone forever and they ain't coming back.
Of course it's craven. Of course we shouldn't be surprised to see members of the media trying to turn war to their advantage. As Clive Thompson said, "It's hardly a secret to anyone that media organizations are slavering over the prospect of war. Hell, they slaver over the prospect of a kid falling down a well, or a local dog getting braces." But it's still striking to see it in writing. And with such fervor!
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.

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