Friday, March 28, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
No false dichotomies, please (I had some for breakfast)
I'm a big believer in there (almost!) always being a "third option". It just takes a little creativity, and some exploring of options.
In other words, I'm generally skeptical of the dichotomies that are presented to me: I tend to think there's a work-around that's better than either of the two existing options.
"You're either with us, or you're against us!" How about I'm ambivalently on your side for most issues, but against you in other issues? How about you're both idiots, and I want new friends?
"Either we invade [name of country] -- or the terrorists win!" How about we send a **few** troops, but also send them a lot of food -- so much that the local warlords can't possibly hoard it and keep it from the local villagers -- and so much that "food" becomes a devalued commodity and there's enough for all. With a sticker that says "Love, the U.S.A. We may be different, but we're still your friends. Feed your children."
"Either we let everyone have abortions, or no-one have abortions!" "Either we allow people to have abortions that aren't medically necessary, or we ruin young women's lives!" Surely there's a third way? Maybe the folks that want to ban abortions could therefore facilitate carrying the fetus to term, through various ways of minimizing the impact on the woman's life for the next five to seven months? (The first few months, no one but you knows you're pregnant. Barring morning sickness.) Instead of saying "Tough noogies; live with it"?
Yeah, that's probably enough for now...
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Small buildings tickle me
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
An Aussie school likes the eee laptop.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Nearly a religious holiday to me
Well, I was somewhat disappointed today to see how few people wore green today -- or even realized that it was Saint Patrick's Day!!! St. P's Day is almost a religious holiday for me.
This is a video clip of the (almost) all-green outfit I wore to my lectures and tutorials today:
(Strangely, no audio got recorded. A glitch by the eee laptop? It worked when I did the "Princess Leia" footage.)
At the beginning of each lecture today, I asked the students whether they'd exchanged their St. Patrick's Day presents yet. Confused looks. "Ah!" I'd say. "You don't do your St. Patrick's Day gifts until the evening. Fair enough!" More confusion. "Oh. Maybe it's just my family, then."
Then I'd riff on how, on every St. Patrick's Day, St. Patrick would come down the chimney and leave little green mints under the shamrock tree in your living room. Then you each grab a side of the mint and pull -- and the person with the largest piece has good luck for the next seven days.
Actually, we don't do any of that stuff. But it's fun to mess with the students.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Decorum in chuch
Not surprisingly, church services --Lutheran and Anglican ones, at least -- contain a lot of symbolism. One portion is called ''the sharing of the peace'', where everyone goes around shaking hands and saying "Peace be with you", and engaging in some quick chit-chat before the next portion of the service. Some of the older ladies also give a quick hug, and maybe a peck on the cheek.
Today, the lady sitting in front of us mentioned -- with a touch of disappointment in her voice -- that she'd read in the church bulletin that someone had asked that during the sharing of the peace that there be no more embracing and kissing.
"Well", I said, "At least not with tongue."
She was amused.
But, maybe you had to be there.
(Photo pinched from http://dpsinfo.com/images/family/mann/wedding77/mrhirabill.jpg)
Saturday, March 15, 2008
All the beautiful things
I've noticed that for the last five or so days, every evening sometime between 8pm and midnight I'll wander off to the other end of the house where we have our still-unpacked piles o' boxes, and thumb through one of the piles of tools I got from my grandpa.
One of these days, I'll have a workshop, where I can (1) unpack all my tools, and (2) actually use them, to build useful things.
And at least I get to heft the occasional saw or hammer or chisel, and turn it over in my hands and imagine it as part of a tidy and orderly array. It's been far longer since I've used the electric guitar or electric bass: no where good to set it up -- and besides, I'm supposed to be finishing a Dissertation, not having fun. (Having fun playing with my kids is allowed, though.)
For a number of reasons, I **need** to be done with my Dissertation by the end of the North American school year.
(Photo from a very good woodworking blog; specifically, the blog entry at http://www.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/A+Nest+Of+Saws.aspx)
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Phishing -- sending misleading e-mails in the hope of getting confidential information (e.g. bank details, account names and passwords) -- is a mean and nasty thing to do: You're preying on the gullible and/or the technologically uninformed.
That said: The following is the pretty pathetic attempt that drifted into my e-mail in-box a few days ago (my comments are afterwards):
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Gmail Team Admin Head
Date: Sat, Mar 8, 2008 at 9:27 PM
Subject: Gmail Warning; Unused Account Removal,Update Your Account Information .
Dear Account User,
This Email is from Gmail Team and we are sending it to every Gmail
User Accounts Owner for safety. we are having congestions due to the
anonymous registration of yahoo accounts so we are shutting down some
Gmail accounts and your account was among those to be deleted.We are
sending you this email to so that you can verify and let us know if
you still want to use this account.If you are still interested please
confirm your account by filling the space below.Your User
name,password,date of bith and your country information would be
needed to verify your account.
Due to the congestion in all Gmail users and removal of all unused
Gmail Accounts, Gmail would be shutting down all unused Accounts, You
will have to confirm your E-mail by filling out your Login Information
below after clicking the reply button, or your account will be
suspended within 24 hours for security reasons.
* Username/Email ID: ........
* Password: .........................
*Alternate Email ID:.....................
* Date of Birth: ................................
* Country Or Territory: ..........................
After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not
be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention
to this request. We apologize for any inconveniences.
Warning!!! Account owner that refuses to update his/her account after
two weeks of receiving this warning will lose his or her account
Thanks for using Gmail
1) What do they mean by "the anonymous registration of yahoo accounts"? That's just gibberish.
2) I love how, in the opening paragraph, they say they'll need your "date of bith". (Hard to say: I've "bithed" so many times...) Seems like a **real** e-mail from Google's tech team would've gone through some sort of spellchecker.
3) They don't even have the I.T. savvy to create a rogue website with an online form -- they want you to fill in the blanks **in the e-mail** and e-mail it back. So, Gmail HQ is gonna have hundreds of data-entry folks copying and pasting the responses into the Gmail database...?
4) Love how they reversed the ":" and the "//" in the URL (at the very bottom). Good attention to detail. I'm sure the Google I.T. folks would have the URL mis-typed in their auto-signature.
I notice that the return e-mail address is an actual e-mail account. Naturally, any old person can ask for any account name that's not already taken ("CEO_of_gmail@gmail.com", anyone?).
I wonder if Google/Gmail will kill the account?
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Something I never thought I'd say
Fatherhood is interesting.
I never thought I'd utter the phrase, "Go to Mommy and get another penguin, please."
It'd be fun to leave it at that.
But the larger context is that The Girl received a ''penguin bowling'' set for her birthday a few months back. The penguins are inflatable, but need to be weighted down with some water -- which is what my wife was doing, in the kitchen.
Another interesting thing: After she'd been bowling for a while, The Girl asked me, "Do you want to have a go?"
This is the Aussie phrasing -- as opposed to "Do you want to have a turn?"
And yet, she calls 'em ''cookies'', not ''bikkies'' (biscuits). A linguistic mix.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
ASUS eee mini-laptop: full disclosure
So, I'll admit that I love my funny little laptop.
That said, it's not perfect:
-A colleague was trying out my machine, to see if she'd get one of her own. She tried to install the Linux version of the special software needed to use my university's wireless system. She gave up.
-Today, as I was tweaking the options for the word processing software, the whole machine locked up. Even the "task manager" wouldn't let me "kill" the application; instead, the task manager locked up as well. Supposedly, this doesn't happen to Linux machines - but, it did.
-Somehow I've lost the little "underline" in the word processor that indicates mis-spelled words. I'm pretty sure that I've ticked the box that **should** make it return -- but it hasn't.
-If you "mute" the speaker via the function keys, and then try to "un-mute" it from the speaker icon at the bottom of the system tray (i.e. at the bottom of the screen), it claims to un-mute it -- but it doesn't. You gotta go back and toggle it back on via the function key.
-The dictionary app that comes with it has a faulty "look up word" function. I typed in "comm" -- and it jumped to "cost-effective" (??!!!). I then had to "page up" for quite a number of pages to get to the "com-" section. I managed to reproduce this error with a few other words -- although generally, this function **did** work.
-Unlike my wife's laptop, which reports the battery level to the nearest integer (e.g. 87% charged), the eee rounds it to the nearest 10%. This means that I was worried for a while, because it seemed like it wasn't actually recharging when I plugged it in: it seemed to be at 20% for a looong time... and also at 90%.
Still: a fun little machine. And it does what I need it to do: word-processing, spreadsheets, and "Powerpoint" presentations, whereever I need it.
(It's entirely possible that there are downloadable fixes to some of these issues online -- or that I ought to report them to the eee forum. But, at the moment I can't be bothered; it's not a priority.)
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Webcamz R kewl
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
USB key RAID?
A thought: I wonder if you can RAID USB flashdrives?
At the very least, you could jack a few of them into a USB hub, and use them as some sort of memory module.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Old USB flashdrives
I just realized that I guess I'm collecting USB flashdrives (or USB pendrives, or USB keys -- whatever you personally call them).
I'll have to send around and e-mail to family and friends, mentioning that if they have any obsolete oldies (e.g. 128MB, 512MB...) -- don't throw 'em away!!! I'll buy 'em at the market value (whatever that may be).
I just feel bad for obsolete technology that no-one loves anymore...
Sunday, March 02, 2008
The scaleable laptop
As per my post yesterday, the great thing about this ASUS eee laptop is its scaleability (or what non-I.T. folks would call ''expandability'').
Sure, the keyboard and screen are right at the threshhold for being too small to use. But -- it's expandable. My reasoning was that I could jack in various extras, to suit my various needs.
Ultra-portable mode: For the overcoat pocket, or just always having with you. A little difficult to touch-type, but fine for peck-typing -- web browsing, quick notes to yourself, whatever. The 4GB memory card (on the right) expands the available HD memory from 1.3GB to 5.3GB. Note the webcam in use -- and the two AA-sized batteries on the keyboard, to give you a sense of scale.
Bookbag/backback mode: For heading down to the local coffee shop. The memory card -- plus a USB flashdrive on the left, just to you can back up the files you just typed (the next two chapters of your novel...?) to an external device. Also, a roll-up keyboard (Jaycar, AU$20), which **is** full-sized.
Hotel room/conference mode: You're away at a conference, or at a business trip. Dump **all* the files you might conceivably need on your external hard drive (top right); USB trackball (or mouse -- but I vastly prefer trackballs as more ergonomic) on left; and a "notebook-sized" USB keyboard (takes up less space in your suitcase -- and not as long, so less likely to be snapped in half by the luggage handlers). Oh -- and the memory card, as always.
At home/at work mode: Full-size USB keyboard, and USB trackball or mouse. External HD for all your zillions of files. Since there's only three USB ports, if you want to jack in your USB flashdrive as well -- or a USB printer [not shown] -- you'll need a USB hub. The laptop has a VGA port, so you could always plug in an external monitor [not shown]. And, the memory card.
Final note: part of the scaleability is that in order to expand its "hard drive" capacity, you just put in a larger memory card, as technology advances -- 4GB becomes 8GB, becomes 16GB, etc.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
REALLY tiny laptop
Well, despite some very reasoned (and reasonable) advice and insights from Four-Tower, I used some work money to buy myself an insanely small laptop: the ASUS eee.
The first laptop I've ever owned, by the way (although my wife has had two, including her current one).
My reasoning for getting it was as follows:
The point of a laptop is portability. To this end, this laptop has a keyboard and screen that's **just** at the thresh-hold of useability (at least, for my adult male -sized fingers). But, I figure it's scaleable (the I.T. term for ''expandable''): you can always jack in a regular-sized USB keyboard and an external monitor for ''at home'' use.
You can see in the photo how TINY it is, relative to my wife's laptop -- which is itself the smallest ''normal'' type of laptop you can get.
Sure, it has less horsepower than what's standard for today: only 800MHz, rather than the two-point-whatever gigaHertz processors; and only 512MB of RAM. But one of my PCs at home has those specs, and it's been perfectly fine for word-processing, web surfing, checking e-mail -- and even doing statistical analyses (since the sample sizes have been reasonably small -- less than 8,000 cases).
The ''hard drive'' isn't really a ''hard drive'' -- it's solid-state, flash memory. Thus, no spinning disks, so less power consumption. That means you can get the same battery life out of a physically smaller battery. Plus, the boot times and software loading times are faster, since there's no ''seek time'' for the spinning disk.
The ''solid state hard drive'' is only 4GB -- with only 1.3GB available after the operating system and installed software. But again: expandable. It has a slot for a memory card -- so if you jack in a 4GB photo card, you now have 5.3GB at your disposal. (Note: If you do this, it's not a unified drive of 5.3GB. Instead, it's like two partitions [or two separate hard drives].) Or, you could jack in your USB flashdrive/pendrive, and expand the memory that way.
It has a built-in mic, webcam, and wireless internet. Plus "office" software (word processing, spreadsheet, "Powerpoint"-type software), plus a bunch of other stuff. AU$498 (about US$400).
Part of the reason that it's so reasonably-priced is that it doesn't use cutting-edge processors -- as mentioned earlier, the 800MHz and 512MB RAM -- far below what's ''normal'' for a new laptop today.
The other reason, though, is that it doesn't pay hundreds of dollars in licensing fees to Microsoft. I've heard that on a new PC with Windows pre-installed, US$200-$300 of the costs of the new computer is the licensing fees to Windows. Instead, the ASUS eee uses a ''flavor'' of Linux -- another operating system (much as Macs use a different OS compared to Windows; this is yet another option). Given that it's icon-driven, it's no weirder for a Windows user to figure out than it would be for a Windows user to borrow someone's Mac: same logic, just that some things are kept in a different place than what you'd expect. (Kind of like borrowing someone else's car: OK -- **where's** the hood release? **Where's** the windshield wiper switch...?)
Similarly, instead of MS Office, it uses OpenOffice.org software -- which, pragmatically, is about 90%-95% as good as MS Office. Microsoft has more money for R&D -- but as long as you're not doing insanely complex formatting, things will work just fine. And you **can** save your files in MS Office compatible formats (*.doc, *.ppt, *.xls).
To pre-empt GC's possible complaint -- I **do** think a novice computer user (e.g. his Farm Girl) could figure it out pretty quickly. There's four or five tabs across the top. Word processing, spreadsheets, etc. are under the "Work" tab; e-mail and web browser are under the "Internet" tab; the webcam/video recorder, games, and audio recorder are under "Play". And etc.
This final photo givess another indicator of size: Folded up, the laptop is 2/3 of the size of a CD case. Wow... :)
A laptop computer that can fit in an overcoat pocket...