Wednesday, January 23, 2008

snow fun

At night, cold tired and aching after a day mining powder all over the mountain, shredding my skis in the deep. The little black dog is dancing on her hind legs trying to bite fluffy snowflakes. Which is a guarantee of more of the same tomorrow.

Another peak moment for the databank. I almost whipped out a camera to re-stage it, but as John Mayer wrote in his only great lyric so far Today I finally overcame tryin' to fit the world inside a picture frame. Reaching back to 70s cliché:
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

cellphone: bought the wrong phone (Sanyo Katana DLX)

After 3 1/2 years with the Samsung sph-i500, the smallest and best and only PalmOS-based flip phone PDA, I knocked it into the bath[**]. I've wanted to replace it for 2 years, now I must. All I want is
  1. flip phone so I don't wreck the screen walking into things while it's in my pocket
  2. a phone dial pad, not a teeny-weeny typewriter keyboard
  3. touchscreen and handwriting recognition
  4. music player
  5. extendable applications
  6. quality cameraphone
  7. infra-red so I can use it as a backup remote control e.g. with Novii remote
For a device that does all that I'll willingly pay a thousand dollars, but it's not manufactured. The Nokia N93i comes really close, with a great camera and everything but a touch screen, but Nokia doesn't have a store in the Bay Area so it's only sold by dodgy gray marketers. Other candidates:
  • iPhone has a vulnerable screen, no physical dial pad and no movie recording (yet)
  • Treo 755p has a vulnerable screen and a typewriter keyboard
So while I wait for Nokia to show up and Apple to introduce more iPhone features (and Google Android to disrupt the market), I'll just buy whatever is the best ordinary flip phone Sprint sells. That turns out to be the Sanyo Katana DLX. But in several ways it's worse than the Sanyo MM-9000 I got for my partner exactly 2 years ago: smaller screen, lower-resolution camera, worse speaker and speakerphone. It does have slightly better UI, Bluetooth, and SDHC capacity (when 2 billion bytes of memory aren't enough), and the charger and cable from the MM-9000 are compatible.

The Katana DLX is only $80 after rebates and getting chained to Sprint for another two years, but it's not what I want. I bought the wrong camera a month ago to capture photos and videos of Jhane Barnes, now I bought the wrong phone.

My other choice was to buy another Samsung sph-i500. Both it and the Sanyo MM-9000 have loyal dwindling fan bases that hoard backup phones.

[**] I read BBC news and various planet.* aggregators of my favorite blogs on my phone everywhere I go, including bathtime. (Your phone has a browser in it! Figure out how to use it, or better yet install Opera Mini and use that!)

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politics: the real security threats and how to diss your boss Bush

9/11 was a stunning attack on the USA, but are a bunch of puny terrorist cells really the biggest threat to the USA necessitating an endless Global War on Terror? Here's Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker posing the question to Bush's s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell.
   I asked McConnell if he believed that Al Qaeda was really the greatest threat America faces.
   “No, no, no, not at all,” he said. “Terrorism can kill a lot of people, but it can’t fundamentally challenge the ability of the nation to exist. Fascism could have done that. Communism could have. I think our issue going forward is more engagement with the world in terms of keeping it on a reasonable path, so another ism doesn't come along and drive it to one extreme or the other. And we have to have some balance in terms of equitable distribution of wealth, containment of contagious disease, access to energy supplies, and development of free markets. There are national-security ramifications to global warming.”

Hmm, the emphasis bits sure don't sound like any part of the Bush doctrine I've ever heard. Next time a Democrat is attacked on national security, I hope he or she quotes this guy.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

non-support: Symantec can't help itself

I ran Cygwin setup, which contacts the Internet to update this fine free collection of UNIX utilities for Windows.

Norton 360's firewall pops up an alert "A program is attempting to access the internet", which is fine. The bug is that the Alert said "Name: NCH Swift Sound Setup". I don't have any such program. Norton's signature database or algorithm is mis-identifying the Cygwin setup program.

So I contact Symantec Technical Support and say "Please pass on this BUG in Norton 360 to its engineering manager"

But company tech support can't handle that. They only know how to help customers, they're incapable of helping the company. So the first reply I get from "Solomon.S" is this issue might occur if your PC is infected with virus or virus-like programs. I reply that my virus scan is fine and "I am trying to help Symantec improve Norton 360 by informing you of this bug in your program." I get another reply from Solomon.S telling me how to change the status as "Allow" in firewall settings for NCH Swift Sound.exe.

Here's my third message.

You still don't get it and I am angry and frustrated that Symantec as an organization is too stupid to accept my bug report.

I am *BEGGING* you to file the following BUG against Norton 360 in your internal bugbase:

"Customer reports that Norton 360's Internet firewall alert mis-identifies the setup.exe program from the Cygwin product as NCH Swift Sound Setup."

How can I be any clearer? I don't need help, Symantec needs help.

How can you stand your job when you have no ability to improve the quality of Symantec's products?

Open source: experienced users like me get a bug login and file a bug against the project; other users can find the bug and comment on it. Eventually someone with QA or engineering ability looks at the bug and the project gets better. Commercial product: the support organization is a barrier to improving the product.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

eco: global climate change in one picture

I spend (waste) time on blogs contesting global warming denialists.

The simple meta-fact is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports on global warming are the scientific consensus (as in "the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned", not a never-gonna-happen "unanimity"). Every nation on earth, including the Bush administration in the USA, plus 40 national science academies, endorses the consensus. Fine, 18% of climate scientists think things aren't so bad or the conclusions. But that leaves 82% agreeing with the conclusions or thinking things are worse. And since IPCC 4th report came out we've seen more worrying effects.

Here's the science.
  • The greenhouse gas effect is simple physics (sunlight comes in, but the greenhouse gases block infrared radiation back out).
  • CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations going up from 280ppm to 370ppm at an ever-increasing rate during the industrial age is undeniable, and billions more of us burning more and more shit at the same time is undeniable.
The effects of that on overall climate can only be understood with a climate model, so you need a scientist (not a politician, not a columnist). Climate models disagree, so the rest of us need the IPCC.

So denialists take other tacks. It's solar variation. It's methane from cow farts. There's less soot (damn environmentalists) so more sunlight. There's something else going on!

This is all true. Climate is hella complex.
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/ is a simple summary page with a fantastic chart that shows NASA's understanding of what forces climate.
NASA's chart of various climate forcings
At the left is CO2, the big one. But there's also methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), also greenhouse gases that man pumps out.

Denialists like to offer solar variation as another explanation for temperature rise, but as you can see its effect is much smaller and besides, solar output has gone down in the late 90s (here's a graph and more debunking).

Denialists like to say water is the biggest greenhouse gas. This is true. Lots of things change along with climate, like water vapor, but don't make it change, hence water isn't in the NASA chart. As it gets warmer H2O in the air increases, making it worse; but we can't measurably affect the concentration of water vapor in the air.

Denialists also like to point out anomalies a long time ago, that CO2 concentration in ice cores lags temperature changes, that there have been ice ages, that it was hot (actually in Europe only) in the middle ages. All true, and understanding these helps improve climate models. But here's the chart of CO2 in industrial times. Ask your local denialist: If CO2 causing global warming is bogus now, then what's the effect of that continuing to go up and up?
Carbon History and Flux


Saturday, January 12, 2008

music: finally buying unprotected songs

I wrote about our multimedia phone:
The big downside so far is there's no way to play protected music files ... This is why DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is evil!
I've been jotting down a list of songs I like but not enough to buy the artist's "Greatest Hits" CD. iTunes announced iTunes Plus where you pay $0.30 more to get an unprotected track that plays anywhere; I've been meaning to put my money where my mouth is but the iTunes Store doesn't make it easy to search only for unprotected music.

But Amazon now sells MP3 downloads! Since that's all they sell, there's no will-it, won't-it work uncertainty. They're often cheaper ($0.89) than protected iTunes, let alone iTunes Plus. The quality may not be as good, but these are just pop songs. I'm going through my list:
  • Search Amazon's MP3 Downloads category for artist name
  • buy (Amazon Downloader puts it in iTunes library)
  • search google for lyrics artist name fragment of lyrics, select and copy the lyrics
    Tip: To avoid the ads all over lyric sites, Get Firefox (try FF 3 beta, it's even better!) and install Adblock Plus
  • while the MP3 downloads, search YouTube for the artist and title and watch the music video
  • in iTunes' "Recently Added" playlist, right-click on song, Get Info > Lyrics, paste in lyrics
  • back up your "My Music" folder (c'mon, you know you should)
I don't like having all my music ratings and lyrics tied up in Apple's proprietary iTunes software, so some day I'll switch to a different player than iTunes, maybe Amarok when KDE4 works on Windows.

Folks, your phone plays music files! (A friend got a Sanyo M-1 phone; she was stunned when I dragged a few songs onto it.) As I predicted, everything is a music player now. Digital photo frames, cars, phones, toys... if it's got speakers it'll probably play unprotected MP3 and AAC files.

Electronic downloads are instant gratification candy , but it doesn't feel right. I still have an archaic connection with the physical object of music—I was playing 12-inch 45RPM disco singles from my true library before transferring these 1s and 0s.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

art: Erik van Lieshout has one approach

On my Minneapolis trip to the Walker Art Center, amongst all the craziness of post-millenium yammering in the Brave New Worlds exhibition, the Homeland Security video by Erik van Lieshout and his cameraman Core was stupid smart.

They visit Jerusalem and Gaza but rather than overtly comment on injustice, struggle, and war they talk about drinking, stomach trouble, and whatever else pops in their heads, while zooming in on female soldiers' boobs and whatever. They're sweaty, bored, confused, rambling. It's Beavis and Butthead do religio-political trouble spots. Yet it makes you see the places freshly. I think their challenge to the viewer is "Could you really do any better? Can you make a difference? Because we know we sure as hell can't!"

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

art: Minneapolis excellopolis

Went to Mpls, real snow in gray landscapes.

Walker Art Center
The Herzog & de Meuron add-on to the Walker Art Center is... OK, in the same way their new de Young in San Francisco is OK. Interesting shapes, modern textures. The off-white plaster with jagged cut-outs inside is just strange, and the logic of two towers escapes me. I didn't know where I was as I walked around.
Herzog & de Meuron robot headFrom the right angle the windows cut into the new square tower make it look exactly like a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot. Rarrrr!

The new Guthrie Theater by starchitect Jean Nouvel is anything but just OK. Phallic endless bridge poking out over the Mississipi, theaters way up off the ground, midnight blue color, ultracool pink and dark lounge colors inside. Completely over the top but fun and excellent.

Inside the Walker had YAFF (yet another fine Frida) exhibit, nothing new to see. Elemental, their Minimalist collection, had a nifty piece by Carl Andre, Aisle, just squat oblong logs of rough wood forming a procession. A simple idea made. And a museum guard singing "This is propaganda; you know, you know. This is propaganda", a conceptual piece by some Italian.

They also had Brave New Worlds: "this groundbreaking exhibition offers bold and creative approaches to questions about the artist's responsibility to the world in times of adversity." Blah blah, globalism, videos, installations, multimedia. But the scale of it, 24 artists, drives you to engage with their concerns. SFMOMA's polite presentations of a handful of contemporary artists are seriously weak, dude, by comparison.

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