Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 365)

17 Apr 2003 (updated 17 Apr 2003 at 14:04 UTC) »
hi
Thought I'd drop by the old neighborhood and say "hi".

dyork: Pass along my birthday greetings to young Chloe!

MichaelCrawford: Thanks for that. I hope the value to others outweighs the personal pain of dredging up enough of the memories to put it to "paper", as it were. I think those values clearly must - the new media you've used offer a potentially vast new audience that can self-organize around your work in a way not possible with real paper. People who need and can benefit from what you've written will find it.

raph: Don't despair of people "leaving". Advogato can't be all things to all people. You've built something extraordinary here, enabling community and relationships that are invaluable. The glass is at least three quarters full here!
When the dialog's here....
dobey: gman does fix a lot of bugs, too, and a ton grunt-level work that I see as equivalent of bug-fixing in terms of getting the whole system (human as well as technological) to work - unglamorous but necessary.

People add stuff they think is needed.

dobey II: I thought Uraeus raised some interesting points. A brusque "You're full of it" sounds more like a playground taunt than an attempt to advance the discussion.
11 Mar 2003 (updated 11 Mar 2003 at 04:22 UTC) »
blogosphere
Started a new blog here. I've come to realize that if we're to realize Tim Berners-Lee's original (and fabulous) vision for the web, it's about writing to as well as reading from the medium. And it makes no sense for my "home page" (a phrase that has become bereft of meaning through repetition) to be static, while I do all the writing somewhere else. So my home page is now my blog. (That's not the only reason for moving - more complex and self-indulgent reasons here.)
books
Just finished George Johnson's new book on quantum computing, A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer. I recommend it. He tackles two subjects I shy away from writing about - computer science and quantum schtuff. Both are so abstracted from everyday experience that finding the write metaphors to explain them to the lay public is tough. Johnson is up to the challenge.

Now I'm in the middle of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. Fun so far.
tunes
Being dense, I did not realize that my public library has music CD's for loan. So I've been loading up. I stumbled across the CD rack while I was getting a book a couple of weeks ago, and the first bit that popped out at me was Don Ellis, who I really hadn't listened to in 20 years. I've since been scouring their racks for old '50s jazz. This week, it's Ornette Coleman, a Coltrane/Adderly combo and Art Pepper, a nifty big band leader I'd not heard before. On the Pepper album, some helpful library patron went through the liner notes and noted which instrument (tenor, alto, clarinet) Pepper played on each cut. In pencil.

I love the library. If it didnt exist, we'd have to invent it.
bastards
So Nora came in last night at bedtime and told me she'd need some help today fixing her computer. She sheepishly admitted she'd clicked on something that had installed some sort of porn program, and she couldn't get rid of it.

These people are bastards.

I sat down this morning after she left for school and fixed it. Took me quite a while, because she's a Windows user and I'm not very familiar with her operating system. I explain the details here not because I think Advogato readers will care, but so Google will pick this up and others with the same problem can see how to fix it. (When I Googled it, I found several people with the problem, but no solution.)

The bastards install a substitute dialer, c:\ecommerce\dialer.exe, which launches on startup. I'm not sure what it actually does, but the pictures suggest that if you use it, porn follows. I assume it's one of those Bulgarian long distance billing scams, but the computer has no modem, so thankfully we'll never know. Nora was smart enough to delete it and the offensive desktop icon launcher it also installs, but that wasn't good enough. On reboot, it was back.

A bit of hunting revealed that it had also dropped an executable: c:\sexicamz.exe. That was apparently doing the reinstall on launch. To remove it, I had to delete that file and also go into the registry (click "Run" on the start menu and type "regedit"): HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run and remove the entry for sexicamz.exe (right-click on the entry to get the "delete" option). I don't know what I would have done if they hadn't given it such an obvious name. Being unfamiliar with Windows, I would never have known what is supposed to be there or not.

They're bastards. Did I mention that?
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.)
pi
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.
coda
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.
cycling
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.
Martin
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:
FREE TACOS
It took a moment for full amusement to set in.
free
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.
swamped
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."

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