Archive: June 12, 2004

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the Graduate

Saturday,  06/12/04  12:41 PM

Congratulations, Jordan, you did it!

I just want to say how proud I am of my daughter Jordan, who graduated from High School last night.  Amazing to think she's almost 18 now, and off to College.  Seems like only yesterday she was a tiny kid running around at high speed, interesting in everything.  Well she's still tiny (sorry!), she still runs around at high speed (in a car), and is still interesting in everything (especially boys men).  But she's not a kid anymore.  We're really really proud of you, Jordan, and wish you the best in the next phase of your life.

The high school commencement at Agoura High School was really well done.  Two of the students spoke, and I must say I thought they were great, mixing just the right amount of gravitas, humor, nostalgia, and optimism.  One of the speakers noted that this was one of those moments which occur in every life, that forever divide before and after.  I'm trying to remember my high school graduation - now 30 years past - and I guess that's right; I don't exactly remember the details of the graduation itself, but graduating from high school was definitely an inflection point in my life, marking the moment when I left my parent's house and went out on my own.  You might even say it's the point at which teens have to stop pretending to be adults, and start actually being adults.  (Although thinking about my college days, it isn't clear we actually acted like adults :)

This time is an inflection point for my other kids, too; Alexis moves on to middle school next year (6th grade), leaving Megan alone in elementary school (2nd grade).  It's such a cliché but yes, they do grow up so fast.  And I couldn't be prouder of them, too; each with perfect report cards (please excuse a little parental chest beating) and each on their way to being fine young women like their older sisters.

I couldn't help wiping a tear from my eyes as I listened and watched.  The principal made note of the amazing events which took place in the world during these kids high school careers - Y2K, 9/11, two countries invaded, the economic boom, bust, and recovery.  It isn't hyperbolic to suggest this was one of those times in the world's life, which will forever divide before and after.



Saturday,  06/12/04  01:35 PM

Yeah, so I'm back, sorry for the radio silence.  I have much to write about, and will try to catch up.  Actually I have so much to write about, it is daunting; I feel like I have to write about everything, which will take forever, and I don't have forever (in fact I don't have any time at all), so I don't write anything.  A vicious cycle.  Fortunately the need to congratulate Jordan broke the logjam, and I can start dribbling out updates - please stay tuned.

Earlier this year I faced a similar gap - that one was six weeks, this one was four - and I responded with a massive catch-up post.  Perhaps this time I'll try filtering more strongly - you don't really need me for the daily news, now do you - and catch up gradually.


Windows video conferencing?

Saturday,  06/12/04  02:31 PM

Does anyone have comments about Windows-based video conferencing systems?  I'd like to have an iChatAV setup, but for Windows laptops.  If you have comments or suggestions, please email me.  Suggestions to buy a Mac are not helpful :)

P.S. I understand people have been able to use Apple's iSight camera as a firewire device under Windows, but that's only part of the solution; in addition to a camera, you need a microphone, and most crucially videoconferencing software.



under God

Saturday,  06/12/04  03:27 PM

Did you know it is easy to send email to the President, Senators, and Congressman who represent you?  It is!  Simply go to this website, select your state, and then enter your mailing address.  You can send email letters to any or all of your elected leaders.

I discovered this recently in attempting to write my Senators (Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer), and Congressman (Elton Gallegly) regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on inclusion of the phrase "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance.  Now that I know about this website, they're going to be receiving a lot of mail from me.  Of course I have no idea if they will actually read it - I assume they gave staffers which filter their mail - but perhaps my voice will not go completely unheeded.

By the way, here is what I wrote:

Dear [Appropriate Salutation Will Be Inserted Here]:

I am contacting my members of Congress regarding an issue of concern to me.

I am concerned about the tone of debate surrounding the "'Under God' in Pledge of Allegiance" issue.

I am personally opposed to ANY religious references in National traditions.  I am not an atheist, but I think there is strong value to the separation of church and state envisioned by our Country's founders, and codified in our Constitution.

More important than my view on the issue itself, I am really concerned by the knee-jerk reaction of many politicians to this issue.  Rather than engaging in legitimate debate, people have rushed to deride the Ninth Circuit Court's decision, and the citizen who raised this issue, Dr. Newdow. (I often disagree strongly with the Ninth, but not this time.)

Although the founders of our Country clearly intended a strong division between church and state, over time the predominantly Christian background of America's leaders has allowed a default religious ethic to creep into America's traditions.  Phrases like "in God we trust" on our currency and "under God" in our pledge of allegiance don't raise eyebrows, because most Americans are Christians and believe such phrases to be appropriate.  Even Americans with other religious traditions such as Jews and Muslims believe in a God, so they can feel these traditions are consistent with their own views.

My point is not that there could be zero Gods or more than one God, nor that there are Americans who are excluded by references to a God.  (Although these are true statements.)  My point is that such issues are religious, and as such should have no place whatsoever in the traditions of our secular government.

I urge you first and foremost to give these issues serious and scholarly consideration, rather than reacting based on emotion.  I urge you furthermore to make decisions on these issues based on what is right, based on our Constitution and the fundamental separation of church and state we cherish as Americans.  Your constituents will most likely disagree with this position, since they are predominantly Christians who would view removal of references to God from our Country's traditions as negative.  I suggest that this is an area where our country's leaders must lead, by establishing a neutral moral tone and deciding issues based on logic, rather than blindly following the popular opinion.

Thank you most sincerely for your attention,

Ole Eichhorn


unused keys

Saturday,  06/12/04  06:24 PM

Have you ever wondered about all the unused keys on your keyboard?

I've been using computers for about 35 years now, and all through that time, keyboards have been remarkably similar.  Keypunch machines, teletypes, dumb terminals, system console, PCs, Macs, Sun workstations, and now laptops - they're all very similar.  You have a "standard" QWERTY setup with four rows of keys with the alphabetic and numeric characters.  You have a space bar, two shift keys, a return, etc.  The ASCII special characters are always pretty much in the same place, except for maybe the weirder ones like backslash and pipe ("|").  But - and this is the thing - there are always keys you don't use.  In fact, they are mostly keys you don't even notice.

On my laptop, at this moment, there are several: scroll lock (?), pause/break, caps lock, "Windows", and "Menu" (shaded pink above).  I believe scroll lock is completely unused, and if pause/break has a purpose, I am unaware of it.  Caps lock's only purpose is to get accidentally pushed, which means I have to push it again to disable it.  (WHO USES ALL CAPS ANYMORE?)  The Windows key is always in a different place on every keyboard, and I'm just not used to it; I know what it does (it brings up the Start menu), but if I need to do that I just, er, click Start.  And the Menu key is new to me on this laptop; I see what it does (essentially a right-click), but have no use for it.

As well, most keyboard these days feature twelve function keys (shaded blue).  There are probably programs which use most or all of them, but I don't use any of them, not even F1 which is mostly but not always Help.  As for shifted function keys, forget it; who could possibly remember all that?  As a counterpoint to those who think I'm hopelessly mouse-centric, I generally prefer keyboard shortcuts to mousing and love CLIs.

And then - there is a weird convention shared among laptop manufacturers that laptop-specific hardware functions be invoked via a Function key (shaded orange).  For example, on my laptop, Function-F2 toggles WiFi, and Function-F4 changes the monitor mode.  These functions are mnemonically indicated, so they're easy to use, but that Function key in the lower left corner throws me off - I expect the Control key to be there.  Since I use a laptop-specific function about once a month, how about putting the Function key in the upper right corner instead, and while you're at it, get rid of the pause/break key altogether?

[ Later: Several of you wrote to point out something really interesting I should have thought of; which keys are missing?  The main missing key is Help, which should have been added at time zero.  These days Mac keyboards have +/- keys for adjusting volume, and another for Mute.  Many laptops have these functions as buttons which are separate from the keyboard.  Those are pretty useful.  Any others?  ]

[ Later still: I received some good feedback, please see more unused keys... ]


Journey through the center of the Earth

Saturday,  06/12/04  07:20 PM

Here's today's thought experiment:

Imagine a perfectly straight hole drilled through the Earth, passing directly through the center.  Now imaging falling into this hole.  What would happen?

[ Later: here's the answer... ]


La Semana

Saturday,  06/12/04  09:40 PM

Today is the big day - Ottmar Liebert's new album La Semana has been released!  Available as a standard CD or in a special limited edition, with special packaging signed by OL.

I've been listening to these tracks for a month now, and I assure you they are wonderful.  Check out Carrousel (RealAudio stream)!

(daa daa da da daa, da duh da duh da duh daaa...)


Saturday,  06/12/04  11:01 PM

So this is first attempt at catching up since resurfacing.  We'll see what happens :)

"Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts."

So "Dutch" has died.  I can't add much to the mounds of things which have been written to eulogize him; he was a great man and President, and his place in history seems secure.  I found it particularly poignant to read Lech Walesa's tribute in the WSJ; it seems amazing that it was only 20 years ago that communism was such a force in Eastern Europe, and in the World.

Amazingly, I was actually at the Ronald Reagan library on June 4, the day before he died.  My daughter's 5th grade class was participating in a Constitutional debate, "We the People", held on the library grounds.  I passed through the museum, and stopped at a display commemorating Reagan's first challenge as President: the Patco strike (air-traffic controllers).  Reagan summarily fired the striking workers, and in so doing he not only ended a disruptive (and illegal) strike, he also served notice to the world of the kind of President they were dealing with: "I said what I meant, and I meant what I said".  He went on to prove this many times, as in his exhortation to Mikhail Gorbechev: "tear down this wall".

I am struck by two things among the remembrances; first, that Reagan was a man of principle, and second, that he was modest and gentle.  It would be better if today's men of principle were the same, our present President included...

Other Serious Business:

  • Gary Kasparov: Stop the Moral Equivalence.  "It is said that to win a battle you must be the one to choose the battleground."  A great strategic thinker, in chess and in life.  [ via LGF ]
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a 75% tax on punitive damages.  Excellent.  That's tort reform.
  • More Arnold doings, Moody's Upgrades California.  He's doing good things.  Optimism and confidence work.
  • Bill Cosby speaks the truth.  "In the presence of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and other African-American leaders, comedian Bill Cosby took aim at blacks who don't take responsibility for their economic status, blame police for incarcerations and teach their kids poor speaking habits."  Wow.  And people are not happy about it.  More from GNXP and Acidman, who notes: "Have you ever noticed that he can do a one-hour comedy routine, have the audience rolling in the aisles and NEVER use the word 'm*th*rf*ck*r'?"  I had noticed that.
  • Glenn Reynolds on the SAT: "My sense is that hostility to the SAT stems from the fact that it does exactly what it was designed to do - it makes it harder for college administrators to discriminate in admissions."  Exactly.

Space and Science:

  • The Hubble Telescope and new Webb Telescope as time machines: Peering Back at the Universe's Past.  Really makes you think that time is the fourth dimension.
  • The Mars rovers are on a new mission.  "The two interplanetary Energizer bunnies, NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers, keep going and going.  The pair of robotic explorers are now well into their extended missions on the surface of Mars."  Opportunity is being sent into the steep Endurance crater, from which it may never come out.  Meanwhile Spirit is on the road again, a month-and-a-half trek over two kilometers to the Columbia Hills.
  • The Riemann hypothesis may have been solved.  This long-standing conjecture is pretty inaccessible to those of us who aren't mathematicians ("The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all interesting solutions of the the Riemann Zeta function: z(s) = 0 lie on a straight line"), but one consequence is that there are infinitely many prime pairs p, p+2.  Most feel the hypothesis is true, but many also feel it is unprovable, but that the unprovability is unprovable.  (paging Kurt Gödel.)  Mathworld reports the proof is false.
  • Wow, so SETI@home has turned five!  And I've been a user for five years; I've donated 125 years of computing time so far.  Wow.  No ET yet, but the search continues...
  • AlwaysOn: The Robot Business Sucks.  Pun intended.
  • The Scientist: Arnold Beckman dies at 104.  "The son of a blacksmith, Beckman created instruments that are now employed in virtually every laboratory across the globe, then used his fortune to up the pace of basic research."  The CalTech legend began his career by designing a pH meter for measuring the acidity of California lemons.
  • Hey, a new dinosaur! ...and it stumps scientists.  "The 50-foot-long sauropod has a number of distinguishing features, but the most striking is this second hole in its skull, a feature we have never seen before in a North American dinosaur."  You've got to love that...  it couldn't be a gunshot wound :)
  • Oh, and Chimps are not like Humans.  "The difference is 'much more complicated that we initially imagined or speculated'."  So be it.
  • And this explains a lot: Brains Cannot Process Two Tasks in Parallel.  "It's readily apparent that handling two things at once is much harder than handling one thing at a time.  Spend too much time trying to juggle more than one objective and you'll end up wanting to get rid of all your goals besides sleeping."  Um, is sleeping a goal?
  • We recently passed the 50th anniversary of Alan Turing's death.  This remarkable man was responsible for many of the foundations of Computer Science.  In a landmark 1950 paper he begins "I propose to investigate the question, 'can machines think'", and went on to found the field of Artificial Intelligence.  To this day "Turing Machine" and "the Turing Test" are crucial concepts in the science of AI.  Sadly he committed suicide at age 42 because his homosexuality was not accepted.  The world has grown in many ways since.

Life and Stuff

  • The Da Vinci Code was a fun book, but was it real?  Uh, no, but apparently a lot of people thought so.  And comments by Dan Brown, the author, that he left out the most controversial part have Catholics in a spin.  C'mon, it's a novel.
  • Remember the missing Stradivarius cello?  Well, it's been found.  Yippee.
  • proposes a robot protest.  Be sure to check out the comment thread :)
  • PVRBlog notes: Tivo killed the rerun.  "Apparently, a sizable number of PVR owners are impacting their bottom line as their recorders automatically pass over old episodes."  Well, yeah.
  • I really liked Harry Potter, and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I liked the first two, too, but this one was my favorite so far.  The effects were less intrusive but cooler (the marauder's map was excellent), and the kids were cooler and more kid-like, too.  Looks like this series does too have legs, which is great news.
  • Ottmar Liebert muses before La Semana was released:  "It has been a very hard year for us and frankly, if 'La Semana' doesn't bring a turn-around, I will spend 2005 to think of something new to do with my life.  Maybe become a resident guitarist in a hotel on the coast of Mexico?"  A great excuse for a Mexican vacation :)
  • What do you think is safer, a Mini or a Ford F150?  Check out these pictures, then revisit your opinion.  [ via Scoble ]
  • Here we have 3D Kleinian Groups.  Fractals made by Jos Leys from strange attractors which are, um, strangely attractive.
  • Eric Sink is posting a great series based on The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, the classic book from Al Ries and Jack Trout.  Check them all out, it's great stuff.
  • GNXP's Razib visited his native Bangladesh, and posted this remarkable report on their culture.  It is amazing to realize how different cultures around the world are from our own.  Please check it out!
  • Wired: Welcome to Planet Pixar.  "By any standards, Pixar Animation Studios has reached infinity and beyond.  From 1995's Toy Story - the world's first all-CG feature - to last year's Finding Nemo, Pixar's five hermetically crafted movies have grossed a staggering $2.5 billion at the box office, making it the most successful film studio, picture for picture, of all time."  They'll have to do something pretty incredible for an encore :)
  • I really like the new Diet Coke with Lime.  So there.

Computers and Electronics:

  • I'm drooling; Samsung has released a 46" LCD TV, with a resolution of 1920x1080.  Okay, it's $10K.  But wow.
  • Here's a great slashdot thread: Worst Explanation from Tech Support?  "Uh, it looks like the bytes are getting through to you ok, but the bits are getting stuck someplace."  I love it.
  • This is amazing and terrible: Clear Channel has patented selling Live CDs after a Concert.  Think "business method" patents haven't gone too far?  Unbelievable.  [ via Ottmar Liebert, who comments "Next they'll give out patents for breathing on Thursdays with your head turned East".  Check out the comment thread on his blog, too. ]
  • Okay, you're a geek if you think this doormat is funny.  Thanks, Adam.
  • Steve Gillmor: Gates Paying Attention to RSS.  "Bill Gates finally speaks the 'R' word as he highlights the increasingly strategic role of RSS in Microsoft's seamless computing direction."  Even Google seems to be using the 'R' word, at least internally.  And Sam Ruby suggests Détente.
  • Brian Storms wonders Where have all the Users gone?  "I was astonished to see what the trends are in the past six months, for many of the sites I visit.  In a word, the trend is down."  Wow, can this be right?  [ via Doc Searles ]
  • Mark Andreessen considers web progress.  "First it was email, then web, then IM, then Napster/ Kazaa, then Apple iChat, now RSS.  One thing after another."  (italics are mine.)  [ via Dave Winer ]
  • Peter Rojas explains How to turn your PC into a Mac.  "So, you wanna make your ugly Windows XP interface look like Mac OS X, huh?  It's really not all that difficult to do, and with a little luck, you'll be able to convince all but the most die-hard Mac users that you run an Apple computer."  Cool.  I'm going to try this, but not on my main laptop :)
  • I'm sure you saw where Apple announced AirPort Express and AirTunes, hardware and software allowing music to be streamed wirelessly from your Mac to your stereo.  Pretty cool.  And now there's speculation that the next move is a wireless iPod, which will serve as a remote control and music source.  Excellent.
  • This is pretty big, if expected: Tivo Breaks into Home Networks.  "TV watchers can now connect their basic TiVo Series2 DVR to a home network and share content between two or more TiVo boxes in the same household, schedule recordings using the Internet, play music and view digital photos -- all features previously available with the company's home media option for an added fee."  I've always thought the RJ45 jack was more important than the Coax jack, looks like Tivo is starting to agree.

So, that's what happened.  One giant catch-up post.  Whew.


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