Friday, December 31, 2010

Feeling Deep, Heavy Pain

At the passing of Kodachrome.

There's a Kodachrome slide of me as a baby with almost perfect color.  I shot many rolls of Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64  in the latter half of the 70s and early 80s.  Because it's Kodachrome, we'll be looking at those brilliant reds for years to come, but there won't be any new images.

This past Thanksgiving I drug out my old Kodak Carousel projector, dug out some old slide trays and old yellow boxes, went to the old camera store and bought a spare ELH lamp in case the over-25-year-old bulb in the projector expired (it didn't!) and showed some slides to the family.

Like everyone else, I've succumbed to making digital images for the past few years.   I knew this day was inevitable.  Still, it's sad to see it come.

So long.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Big Win on Hulu Plus

Okay, the Roku box we got for Christmas has been fun to watch but the big score was last night when I discovered on Hulu Plus all seasons of Saturday Night Live going back to season one in 1975-76, really the only one I really enjoyed or watched on a fairly regular basis.  I was able to watch some sketches that I haven't seen since then but had a pretty good memory of.

Sinuous Chrome Browser Game

Is clever and fun to play.  What's this about apps in the browser?   Here's a good example.

I just realized, now that the Chrome App Store is public, I can pass on this really neat game!  Just install it in your Chrome browser.  There are other apps in the Chrome Web Store.

However, I discovered a rare example of the graphics on my old desktop PCs being slow!  The only thing I have fast enough to really run this at an enjoyable speed is the Macbook from work.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Talking Tech and Building an Empire From Podcasts

Jon Kalish in the New York Times writes about Leo Laporte's network.  

I listen to four or five shows per week, and sometimes more but I don't always have time.  I usually listen to the podcasts (via Listen for Android) in the car and sometimes watch the videos, e.g., on Youtube, or now on the Roku.

Balancing on a giant rubber ball in a broadcast studio and control room carved out of a cottage in Petaluma, Calif., Leo Laporte is an unlikely media mogul.

From that little town in California wine country, he runs his empire, a podcasting network, TWIT. For 30 hours each week, he and the other hosts on his network talk about technology — topics like the best e-book reader or how to get rid of a computer virus — for shows that he gives away online.

Mark McCrery, chief executive of Podtrac, which is based in Washington, and measures podcast audiences and sells advertising, said TWIT’s advertising revenue doubled in each of the last two years and was expected to total $4 million to $5 million for 2010.

Starting at $40 per thousand listeners, TWIT’s ad rates are among the highest in American podcasting and are considerably higher than commercial broadcasting rates, which are typically $5 to $15 per thousand listeners.

The shows I listen to are:

  • This Week in Google (the first I started with)
  • This Week in Tech
  • MacBreak Weekly
  • Security Now
  • The Tech Guy
And, as time and circumstances allow.
  • Tech News Today
  • Live Specials
  • Home Theatre Geeks
  • Net@Night
  • Four Cast

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts on Getting a PhD

I recently forwarded the insightful post by Matt Welsh on getting a PhD.  This article by Eduardo Pinero is similarly astute.

Happy Winter Solstice

Tuesday 21 December 18:38 EST.   Yeah, that's tomorrow but I wanted to send this before I forget.

Thinking About Little Home Servers

Where size=small (Mac mini) or size=zero (virtual, cloud).

Size = small

I find myself thinking about smaller servers at home now, mostly inspired by the Pogo Plug (

Smaller servers could mean the Mac Mini.  It's not the cheapest, but it's capable and brings the usual Apple Mac reliability and style (e.g., silent running).  Could I switch over to OS X-based servers rather than Linux-based?

Could I?  Should I?  Would I move completely away from Linux?  Well, since Linux is central to my work, abandoning it at home doesn't seem like a good idea.  It's also much cheaper to run and more flexible, for what that's worth.  But then tt's not clear to me that flexibility is that important lately, I find yearning for simplicity.

And can you run a OS X machine as a server?  Of course, and it's not that much different from Linux.  However, I expect that adding something is not as simple as sudo apt-get install.   Also, I'm not sure what would happen if I needed to do a wget, configure, make, make install.  You can certainly get to the point where this second case works, but how easy or hard is that?  It turns out that Apache and it's LAMP-ish friends are most important and Apache and ssh are already installed on MacOS.  Add MySQL and a little mini-server would be pretty much set.

That's what the little Pogo servers are.  I looked and you can buy generic Linux boxes with that little form factor.

The idea here is a little minimum-sized server, possibly Atom-based, with local solid-state storage for the OS (no moving disk).  You attach an external 2.5-in hard drive for large-scale moving-disk storage and plug in an ethernet cable.  I like that form factor as I gaze over a nearby set of mini-tower-sized machines.

Size = zero

Well, what about zero-sized virtual servers?  Why have home-based physical servers at all?  I could just set up one or more boxes in the cloud, something like on Amazon's EC2, and run my servers there.  Now the hardware part of the equation is cancelled out and only the essense of OS administration remains.  Storage is elastic and similarly free of hardware worries.

Okay, so it's all on >= 1 VMs.  What do I really need to run there at that point?  Half of what the home systems provide is infrastructure, but that could really be handled by the wifi router, the ISP, and the Internet in general.

Ultimately, for home, I need a few web-based services, file-sharing and data backup.  Data backup is one of the most important functions.  So, a cloud-based file-sharing and data service, say maybe Carbonite, Drop Box (yeah, I know they are different services, so maybe both) or something like Amazon S3, might be sufficient for that.

There's still a missing puzzle piece.  The cloud still doesn't support code development meaning I still need a Linux shell, emacs, Python, etc., etc., for code development.  To provide that in the cloud, at least a VM is required but it will be great when we can put all of that into a browser-based experience.  Sometime I'll have more to say on this topic.

You might ask, what happens when you lose connectivity when your ISP fails?  That is a key concern.  Generally everything stops anyway.

That brings us to the point where everything is in the cloud and there are no servers with administration worries.  It also brings me back to the same three questions:  Could I?  Should I? Would I?  

It's a thought.

Video of the Day

Tom and Ray of Car Talk fame sing and play after being presented with a custom-edition guitar by Martin and Company.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Monday night-Tuesday morning 20--21 Dec

On the actual winter solstice!  The circumstances of the eclipse are reported in Sky and Telescope.

Partial eclipse begins   1:33 EST
Total begins   2:41
Mid-eclipse  3:17
Total ends  3:53
Partial eclipse ends 5:01

Binoculars are a great instrument for observing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

ChromeOS---Finally Someone Gets It

Joe Wilcox and, via reference, MG Siegler, actually understand ChromeOS.  Wilcox writes about it in his blog post A week with Google’s Chrome OS laptop, Day 4: Who is the cloud for?.

Look, there are basically three (well, four) easy steps to grokking ChromeOS.

Step 0:  Most people use a browser for most things most of the time

At my own house, this has been obvious for years.  When I set up a Linux workstation in years gone by, I would install Firefox, Flash and that was about it.  They were ready to go.

Even at work for several years, most applications have been accessed via a web interface.  It's a huge advantage to just browse to a secured site rather than install and maintain a thick, or even thin, client.

And finally, I've been using Google Gmail and Apps (Documents, etc.) at work for years as well.  From any trustworthy computer and browser I can get to nearly everything at work that's important.  That was true even at the university.

Step 1:  For most folks, an OS is a liability

For most of us, the OS underlying the browser just brings trouble.  It's a place for viruses and worms to take hold, for cruft to build up until it crawls along so slowly that many people just give up and buy a new computer.   It requires constant help and repair and, in the best of cases, constant updating and vigilance to keep it safe and useable.

There are only a few computer professionals that really need, or think they have a good reason to need, an actual OS with all of the rights and priviledges thereof.

So, with ChromeOS, you just shave all of the OS overhead down to the minimum necessary to run Chrome, and that's it.  You still need the parts that talk to Wifi, card reader slots, USB ports for a camera and such, but there's a gigantically huge amount that you don't need.

The resulting system can then be reinforced and rearchitected to make it maximally secure.

In the ChromeOS world, you're using on-line apps.  They are updated constantly and invisibly to you.   You don't have to worry about the above problems and their related tasks.

Step 2:  You can work in the cloud

In this browser-only world, you keep all of your files on-line, in the cloud.  You don't have to worry about backups, installing apps, or lost data.  Your files are backed up, usually geographically distributed on a wide scale for redundancy, and easy to find.

It's true, relying on the cloud requires a level of trust.  We're used to having our stuff on our own computer and media.  Truthfully, though, most people do a bad job of managing and securing it.  The cloud is many times safer than what they currently do.

We've kept our personal finances, our money, in banks and financial institutions for all of my life.  Most corporations do, too.  Most businesses don't keep their money in a closet behind someone's desk.  For all practical purposes, the financial institutions are a cloud.  We're convinced that they take reasonable and appropriate security measures and that there are sufficient backups and failsafes in place.  And further, most of us continue to use and trust them even in the face of some recent reasons perhaps not to.

Step 3:  Then the rest of the apps

Okay, even if you admit that you can do your email, social networking, word processing, spreadsheets, etc., in the cloud, what about the heavy applications that just have to be run on a computer, i.e., that require a real OS?

In my experience, examples of these heavy apps fall into three categories.

  1. Media-heavy such as image- and video-editing.
  2. Graphics-heavy such as 3D games.
  3. Programming and development

With the advent of HTML5, all of these are possible to do in the browser.  There are earnest efforts to bring to market instances of the first two.  I've seen them.  Since last summer, I've done nearly 100% of my photo editing on-line in Picnik.  It actually works great!

Number three is the last hurdle and there are people hard at work on that one.  I've been thinking about it a lot myself, and I've done some experiments and even changed my daily work habits.  The only real thing I need other than a browser, really, is an xterm emulating a vt100 to access a Linux machine with Emacs, Python and some other tools.   If those can be moved out of the very old VT100 environment into a browser window, then I'm basically done.   Even I admit I'm not sure I'm ready to make that shift from 25 years of doing things a particular way, but I'm ready to give it a try.

One more final step is support for off-line caching so you don't have to skip a beat when you disconnected from the Internet for a while.

Once this is all done, the computer, whether it's a ChromeOS laptop or whatever, just doesn't matter.  You can close the lid and leave it on a table in a restaurant.  If someone else picks it up, if they don't know your password, they don't have your data.  But I can pick up another ChromeOS laptop, even borrow one from another person, log in, and pick right back up where I left off.  Secure, with all of my tools and data, ready to work.

This may be apple pie, but it's not blue sky.  Most of this technology is in place and it only needs to have the edges smoothed and polished.

See also: What does Chrome OS and Google notebook mean to you? by Andy Ihnatko in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Voyager Is Near Solar System's edge

BBC News reports.  A distinct change in the general velocity of charged solar-wind particles measured by Voyager 1 indicate is close to crossing the heliopause, by one definition, the edge of the solar system.

Now 17.4 [billion] km (10.8 [billion] miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.
It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.
The newly reported observation comes from Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, which has been monitoring the velocity of the solar wind.

This stream of charged particles forms a bubble around our Solar System known as the heliosphere. The wind travels at “supersonic” speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock.

At this point, the wind then slows dramatically and heats up in a region termed the heliosheath. Voyager has determined the velocity of the wind at its location has now slowed to zero.

Story by By Jonathan Amos,
Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

Monday, December 06, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Where's My Workspace?

I find myself once again dabbling in ~LISP in the form of Racket Scheme as part of an informal study group at work (perhaps, having apparently lost my mind completely).  Since most of my (extremely modest) LISP hacking hails from over 30 years ago, my first question was, How do I preserve my workspace?  I want this to work like Smalltalk!

My colleague, JB, showed me the scheme mode and some commands in Emacs which let you load definitions from an Emacs region or a single s-expression.  Hm, maybe that will work.

I found this blog post to be an interesting discussion on the topic.

For the record, I'm just auditing the study group!   8-)

And yet, I'm sitting here compiling a racket workspace for myself on a VM.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Matt Welsh Leaves Harvard for Google

In his blog posting he discusses leaving his academic post for Google.  He's also written a nice post about things to consider before starting on a PhD.  It's slightly computer science focused, but generally it's all very much on target!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blue Moon Definition Was Wrong

From a article by Joe Rao.

I was wrong.  My wife said last night that the moon was a blue moon.  I said, that's not possible because a blue moon is a second full moon in the same month and that couldn't happen on 21 Nov.  It has to happen at the very end of a month.  She pointed me at the above article that explains it.

The short answer is that the two full moons in a month definition is actually erroneous.

Rao notes that Lawrence J. Lafleur, in Sky and Telescope in 1943, quotes a 1937 edition of the Maine Farmer's Almanac, stating that a blue moon is the rare occurance of four full moons in a season instead of three.  The blue moon is the third moon in that season.

The mistake was apparently made by James Hugh Pruett in a 1946 Sky and Telescope where he misinterpreted Lafleur's explanation to mean a second full moon in a single month.  (See the above article for details).

The wrong explanation was propagated by Deborah Byrd in the radio program “Stardate” in 1980 and then the wrong definition, quoting Rao, “went viral.”

It all makes me wonder when I first learned of the two-full-moons-in-a-month definition.  I would have thought it was long before 1980, but maybe it was after that date.

Well it sort of spoils the whole thing.  Now we'll have to talk about old-correct-definition blue moons and new-incorrect-definition blue moons and none of them will seem quite right any more.

This would all be a lot simpler if the moon would just actually turn blue once in a while.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thirty Years Since We Watched Voyager on TV

I was the director* of the planetarium at the time and had received a letter from NASA that they were broadcasting live coverage of  the Voyager 1 encounter via satellite.

When I was a kid, reading library books about the solar system, there would often be a chapter at the end of the book on the Grand Tour of the Planets.  A favorable alignment of the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, would allow a single spacecraft to visit each of them using gravitational assist, in the distant future of the 1980s.

Fast-foward to 1977, either 5 Sep 1977 (Voyager 2) or 20 Aug 1977 (Voyager 1), I forget which.**  It's morning and I'm lying on the sofa after being at the museum's observatory all night.  I'm watching the Voyager spacecraft launch on TV.  With those launches, the Grand Tour became a reality and Voyager 2 visited all four planets.

However, it was Voyager 1 that visited Jupiter and Saturn first.   The spacecraft stole some of Jupiter's orbital momentum, causing Jupiter to fall just a little bit toward the sun, as it accelerated on to Saturn

 The event was going to happen on 12 Nov 1980.  There was no NASA channel at the time so I had to call the local cable operator (Cox) and ask them to tune into the particular satellite and transponder that NASA had arranged and to feed the coverage out over a spare channel on their cable plant.  It took some convincing since they were reluctant to actually commit a channel, even for a one-time event.  In the end, I think I ended up talking to a guy in control shack, probably running their dish farm, who didn't seem to want to be bothered with events from other planets.  My memory is that I never got an absolute firm commitment, but something more like a shaky okay, which was more than a little worrisome.

Next, it was necessary to find a video tape recorder and it turned out there was one I could borrow from the board of education.  I drove down to their dusty equipment warehouse to pick it up.  Or maybe it was just the road by the warehouse that was dusty.  It was an old 3/4-inch U-Matic machine, a video cassette size that was heavily used by TV stations in those days.  The 1/2-in cassettes were just starting to become popular as the VHS vs. Betamax battle was raging.

We hauled the recorder over to one of our staff member's parents' house  to record the coverage, since they had cable.  The encounter was in the middle of the day and several of the planetarium staff were crowded into their den, watching the show.

It was a heady time indeed as we watched those black and white pictures scroll slowly in (because the data download rates from the space probe probably slower than the modems of the time!).  Of course they were not digitally post-processed yet—they were pretty raw images, so there were just the beginning hints of some of the amazing sites to come.  The coverage cameras showed ecstatic scientists watching the same images appear on their control room monitors and there were several interviews with Ed Stone, Carl Sagan and others who were seeing their own life-long fantasies come true.  Sometimes you suddenly arrive at those moments when you get goosebumps and a lump in your throat, when you know you're experiencing pinnacle achievements in human history.  This was one of them.

As the pictures crawled in, I believe it was possible, even in those first images, to see the spokes in the rings, the braided F-ring, and some of the other jaw-dropping, never-imagined features of Saturn up-close.

After recording the fly-by, we borrowed a TV from one of the local TV stores (yeah, it's weird to recall that there actually were TV stores then***).  It was just a standard 19-in CRT or it might have been larger.  We set it up in the planetarium and opened to the public for a replay of the “live” Voyager-Saturn encounter.  I remember we had a bit of difficulty because the video tape recorder had a separate RF modulator that had to be physically plugged into the back of the machine (think small, chunky game cartridge) before we could get a signal to the TV.

I guess we had enough lead time to advertise the event using the usual TV and newspaper avenues because I remember a pretty good turnout.  There were college professors, amateur astronomers and many other enthusiastic folks from the community there who were just as thrilled as the crew at JPL to see these first images coming back from the ringed planet, even though our replay was delayed by hours.

As I recall there were encounter events over two or three days as Voyager flew by some of Saturn's moons and made its way across Saturn's “miniature solar system,”  so we had probably two and possibly three nights of replay.

Today Voyager 1 is over 115 AU (astronomical units) from the Sun.  By definition, the Earth is 1 AU from the Sun.  Pluto is, on average, 40 AU.  Voyager 1 is the most distant, active spacecraft in the solar system and it's still collecting and transmitting data.

“In four to six years, Voyager 1 is expected to cross beyond the heliosheath, the outer layer of the bubble around our solar system that is composed of ionized atoms streaming outward from our sun, ” reports a news release from NASA this past October.

We've come a long way from those solar system books from the library, written in days when artists never even thought to include clouds when illustrating the Earth as seen from space.  I've been amazed to see so many of those funny but always awe-inspiring artist's conceptions come to reality.  It will be fascinating to see which ones come next.


It was just past the turn of the century and I'd never thought about it before even after a couple of years or so.  It was a friend who pointed out to me that the two vehicles sitting in my driveway were a Voyager and a Saturn.

* Technically my title was curator at the time.  It was a few years later that we reorganized and all department heads became directors.  The main change was that we each gained full spending authority over our budgets.

** No that's not a typo.  Due to the solar system mechanics involved, Voyager 2 was actually launched before Voyager 1.

*** When I was a kid and the TV malfunctioned, a TV repairman actually came to our house to fix it.

Image Credit

Ghostly Spokes in the Rings

Scientists first saw these somewhat wedge-shaped, transient clouds of tiny particles known as “spokes” in images from NASA's Voyager spacecraft. They dubbed these features in Saturn's B ring “spokes” because they looked like bicycle spokes. An electrostatic charge, the way static electricity on Earth can raise the hair on your arms, appears to be levitating tiny ring particles above the ring plane, but scientists are still figuring out how the particles get that charge as they analyze images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The image on the left was obtained by Voyager 2 on Aug. 22, 1981. The image on the right was obtained by Cassini on Nov. 2, 2008.

Image credit: NASA/JPL and NASA/JPL/SSI

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Demolition Goes Wrong

[VIDEO] I think the lesson is clear here: Don't let Ms. Johnson's Fourth Grade Class do your demolition.  Use professionals.

Note the video appears on this page from

Tuesday, November 09, 2010



In this article, Ian O'Neill at describes how new data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have indicated that gammar ray bursts are too energetic to be generated by magnetars and must come from black holes.

A magnetar is a neutron star, a highly compact object made up of degenerate neutrons, with an extremely strong magnetic field.

The largest stars undergo the most energetic supernovae producing either a massive, magnetically dominated neutron star (known as a "magnetar") or a black hole. It is thought that young magnetars are the key driver behind GRBs.

But a GRB is a very different creature to an 'average' supernova. Via a mechanism that is poorly understood, intense narrow jets of hot plasma are blasted from the dead star's rotational axis. Intense radiation is also produced. If one of those jets are pointing directly at Earth, we'll see an explosion that seems too powerful to be a supernova. That's a gamma-ray burst.

It would appear that in all cases too much energy is generated for the magnetar model to be valid.

"The magnetar model is in serious trouble for such incredibly powerful events," said coauthor Alex Filippenko, UC Berkeley professor of astronomy. "Even if the magnetar energy limit is not strictly violated, the tremendous efficiency required by this process strains credulity."

SSH: passwords or keys?

by Jake Edge 2010-01-13 at

The Three C’s of Social Content

Consumption, Curation, Creation by Brian Solis at This is quite fascinating.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Eris Gets Dwarfed

Pluto may be the biggest Kuiper Belt object again.   Sky and Telescope has a news item by Kelly Beatty describing observations of an occultation of a 17th-mag star (named L1654635357407160223) by Eris set new and smaller upper bounds on Eris' size.

…successful observations from widely separated sites create two chords across Eris's shadow that yields a unique solution for its diameter (assuming that the object is spherical).

That number, according to Bruno Sicardy (Paris Observatory), is hard to pin down exactly because timings derived from the three telescopes' light curves have some uncertainty. Even so, Sicardy notes in an email, "Almost certainly Eris has a radius smaller than 1,170 km" — and that would make it ever-so-slightly smaller than Pluto, whose diameter is thought to be 1,172 (±10) km. Don't be surprised if the final value gets pushed another 50 or 60 km lower.
Previous observations were based on direct infrared measurements and size estimates were derived from assumptions about the surface brightness (albedo) and other aspects of the body.

Image credit:  Marselo Assafin and others.  From Sky and Telescope.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

How Search Works on Google

by Matt Cutts.  

Evolution of the Batman Logo


Herschel-ATLAS Finds Gravitational Lenses

Large numbers of unusually bright images in the far-IR which appear to be galaxies magnified by gravitational lenses in newly released data from the Herschel-ATLAS project

“Our survey of the sky looks for sources of sub-millimeter light. The big breakthrough is that we have discovered that many of the brightest sources are being magnified by lenses, which means that we no longer have to rely on the rather inefficient methods of finding lenses which are used at visible and radio wavelengths,” says lead researcher Mattia Negrello of the Open University.

Negrello says that “…Our results show that gravitational lensing is at work in not just a few, but in all of the distant and bright galaxies seen by Herschel.”

Tumblr, Twitter and Blogging

I just read the article Can Tumblr Topple Twitter by Paul Sawers and poked around Tumblr a bit more this morning.  One thing I realized about Tumblr is that it can look quite a lot like Twitter.  You can post brief, tweet-like messages and the page display (using one of the default themes) is quite clean and Twitter-like.

Add to this the searching function, the Reblog buttons, and the ability to follow other users, and you basically have Twitter.  Hm.

But, there's also the versatility of it being a blog with titles and of course much longer posts, if you wish.  Hm.

Looking at the default set of themes on Posterous, there's no doubt the thinking there is that this is purely a blog. All the themes and layouts look blog-like.

Of course there's nothing preventing you from posting short, subject-less posts of, say, 140 characters or less.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Important: Steve Gibson Explains Firesheep

with Leo Laporte on Security Now.  If you never watch another TWiT video/pod cast, you should probably watch this one.

A new Firefox extension, Firesheep by Eric Butler, allows anyone at an open WiFi hot spot (e.g., current, typical Starbucks) see your face, your Facebook and other sessions on other services and have full access to your stuff and whatever you're doing.  They can look at your pictures, change them, make posts, change your profile and even reset/change your password.

The fix is simple:  If  you didn't type in a password to access their WiFi, then it's not secured.  If you typed in a WiFi password (technically, if they use WPA encryption), then all is okay.  Hopefully everyone involved will fix this as soon as possible.  Until then, beware.

Some sites are secured against this themselves, e.g., Gmail, such that it's not a problem, because they force the use of SSL (https://).

Note that there's a brief chunk of news discussion in the early middle of this video.  You may want to skip ahead to 44m30s.

For computer folks who may be wondering, the blinking lights behind Steve Gibson are old PDP-8 computers!   8-)

Embracing the Virtual

I'm starting to embrace virtual computers and machines, and virtual computing in a big way.

I'm also starting to embrace video and music streams vs. media and soft downloads vs. buying hard media.

More to come.

The 11-in Macbook Air

I saw the 11-in Macbook Air at the Apple Store last night.  My first impression is, Wow!  My second impression is, Yeah, Apple is right on this one, this is the future of the netbook/laptop computer.

Additional impressions:

  • This is better than the iPad.  Yeah, I've finally played with iPads on a few occasions and it's compelling and amazing, but I'm not sure how practical.  The enthusiasts I listen to on podcasts are starting talk about migrating back to their laptops and refer to the pad as always a second computer that you want to use, but that it's maybe even a luxury.
  • The 11-in screen is sufficient and the resolution is the same as on the 13.
  • My 13-in Macbook Pro seems big now.   8-/  And heavy.  !!
  • I've been expecting the end-of-media for a few years now and I'm starting to embrace it.  I'm resisting buying CDs, DVDs and Bluray discs, and a Bluray player, so far.  So, no so-called optical drive is okay, I think.
  • The 11-in has exactly the ports I use, USB for a mouse and keyboard, video for external monitor or TV, audio for speakers or headphone.
  • The wider aspect screen seems shorter and is a bit off-putting.  I don't know if it would actually be bothersome but that's something to take a second look at.
More later.

Basically I've had nothing but reservations about the iPad from the start, in spite of being excited about the idea of a computing pad for decades.  I have no reservations and I'm pretty excited about this computer.

Web Site Easily Cracks Windows 14-Char Passwords from Hash

CIO Zone has an article by Dan Dieterle has written about a web site put up at Objectif Securite which can crack a 14-character Windows password from an input hash in only a handful of seconds.  Their secret sauce is using fast solid state drives (SSD) to make cracking very fast.

If you are a Windows user then it may help to know, before you completely panic, that using this technique requires getting the stored hash of a password.  This means they've already broken into your computer, and have access to everything, before this could be used.

A common technique on computer systems is to take a password, use a hashing function to turn it into a long, random-looking string, and store that string on the computer.  Then, to verify a password when you type it in, the hash function is applied to what you type in, a long string is generated and it's compared to the stored string.  If they match, then the assumption is that the passwords match and you're authenticated.

Another assumption is that the hashing function is essentially one-way, i.e., you can't take the hashed string and immediately turn it back into a password.  The above web site uses a brute-force type of attack to make this possible and break that assumption.

So, again, to use this to get your password, an attacker would have to have already compromised your system to dig out the hash string.  For a single computer this isn't that big a threat.

What is the threat then?  Well, at a site, say a corporate office, by compromising a single, poorly protected system, say some person's desktop, an attacker could get the hashes and then use this technique to get the password of an important user, even the site or system administrator.  They would then gain immediate access to other more important systems, the entire corporate infrastructure, and important corporate data.  The intruder could potentially live and operate, well-hidden, in such a compromised system for weeks or months.


It doesn't seem that long ago that we considered eight-character passwords to be secure.  I used 14-char for a while simply because that was the maximum limit Windows allowed.  Now I use longer passwords (and no, I'm not saying how long), for non-Windows systems and web sites.

Pretty soon, you're going to start seeing other “factors” used to authenticate to a system.  In other words, you'll no longer just type in a password, you'll have to do something else, say answer a question.  Or authentication may involve something else you have with you, like a key of some sort.   Some well-designed financial sites already use such techniques now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yesterday's Hurricane

Over the midwest.

Credit:  Suface map image from The Weather Channel.

I've Really Been Enjoying

@stevemartintogo on Twitter, when I remember to read them.  For example:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

GTD Realization of the Day

While sorting through a big box of cables that I'd collected, I realized that I don't need a 6-liter box full of telephone cables and jumpers with RJ-11 connectors.  The fact is, we don't even use wired telephones any more!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hooray! Gmail Animated Themes

Are working again!

I Manage by Dipping

Into the information firehose that @louisgray speaks of.

In an early talk by Laura Fitton, @pistachio, was the idea that Twitter was a stream to dip into, not a flow to fully consume.  You don't try to back up and catch it all, you just dip in and take from what's flowing by at the time, like channel surfing on TV.  (Well, at least some of us remember pre-Guide channel surfing).

My way of doing this is to read Twitter once or twice per day.  I usually read it in the morning and, occasionally, a time or two throughout the day.  Maybe more on days like a holiday when I have more free time.  I generally read back a little way into my stream of followees, typically covering the most recent hour or two of posts.  There are some followees that I will click on to read further back in their stream.  Those tweeters are likely to be a news web site, almost never an individual with the exception of a few bloggers.  That way, I catch up on their stories of the day and not just what they published in the last hour or so.

In fact, since I tend to read Twitter early in the morning, it's heavily slanted toward Great Britain, so selective reading back on some streams helps balance that out.

For Facebook, I generally only look at the Facebook gadget on the home screen of my Nexus One Android phone.  That gadget is on the far left of the five screens, way over there with the music player, photo gallery, Shazam and such, so it's not where I normally go on the phone.  I may click through recent wall updates that appear there, but it's only a handful.  I probably do this less than once per day and just at random times.

After looking, I might actually click into the Facebook app itself and read more comments or reply to something.  This makes my reading of Facebook a similar dipping into the stream.  I don't keep up with everything that would appear on my Facebook page because I rarely log into it, maybe once or twice per week.  But then, I describe myself as far less than a fan of Facebook.

The other way I interact with Facebook is through email when someone messages or posts to me directly.  In that case, I probably do log into Facebook, via clicking on the link in the message (watch for phishing attacks!!), to reply or read further.

I don't use notifications at all (well, almost), so I'm not interrupted by beeps or buzzes or popups.  Google Talk and Chat are silent in my configuration.

For years, I've maintained the practice of not using any sort of new-message email notification.  I read email periodically throughout the day.  Admittedly, I may check email more than once an hour, but it's part of my job.  If I'm consciously trying to achieve more productivity, at a higher than normal level, I try to limit looking at email to less than once per hour or I wait until I've completed a timed session of working on a task.  Usually I zero out my inbox in the morning so it's only additional messages that come up during the day.  Also, my email is very heavily filtered, so I only see the most important messages anyway.

A side effect of this practice is that meeting notices that arrive in less than 24 hours may not work for me.  Asking for more than 24 hours notice for meetings has been a standard request of mine for decades.

As far as chat goes throughout the day, I try to keep a browser tab visible, sticking out somewhere on the computer screen, typically out of the way over on the edge.  There won't be an audible cue if there's a chat message, but I should eventually see the tab blinking if I happen to glance over that way.  That's the closest thing to an interruption I get during the day.

There is one more exception to the above.  My Nexus One Android phone does chime or buzz when I receive a text or chat message.  Those tend to be almost exclusively from family or close friends, so they are the equivalent of an important phone call and only occur rarely thoughout the day.

So, to answer Louis Gray's question, I wasn't interrupted at all while reading his excellent post.  8-)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Computing at Scale

or how Google has warped my brain by Matt Welsh.

Having been at Google for almost four months, I realize now that my whole concept of computing has radically changed since I started working here. I now take it for granted that I'll be able to run jobs on thousands of machines, with reliable job control and sophisticated distributed storage readily available.

I do all of my development work on a virtual Linux machine running in a datacenter somewhere -- I am not sure exactly where, not that it matters. I ssh into the virtual machine to do pretty much everything: edit code, fire off builds, run tests, etc.

Matt Welsh is a professor of Computer Science at Harvard University. His research interests include distributed systems and networks. He is currently on leave at Google.

Moon Map

This high-resolution map by James W. Head, Maria Zuber and collaborators based on data from the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter covers craters down to 20 km in size.  Note the beautiful video!  Passed on by Amanda.  Published in Science.

From their abstract they conclude, “The characteristics of pre- and postmare crater populations support the hypothesis that there were two populations of impactors in early solar system history and that the transition occurred near the time of the Orientale Basin event.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Inbox Zero

I read this interesting post this morning about cleaning one's inbox to zero.  The zero inbox concept comes from, and is a central idea, of GTD, which I've been practicing for a year now.  In addition to that, I was already practicing a form of email inbox zero before GTD.

Here's a quick list of how I do it.

  • I use Gmail.  That takes spam out of the picture completely.
  • I use **a lot of filters** in Gmail to filter mail into a lot of labels.  Most of them contain messages that I never read unless there is some reason to.
  • The only mail in my Inbox consists of messages I want to look at.
  • When I read them, if they require some action, If I can do it or reply immediately, I do.  The GTD rule is replies that take less than 2 minutes.  I probably use a rule or more like if it takes less than 30 seconds.
  • Otherwise, I click on More Actions, Add To Tasks, and that email message goes into my Tasks list, which I use for my GTD process.
That's it.  With this approach my INBOX gets, I don't know, I'd guess maybe 100 messages a week.  A lot of them are ads from vendors I actually do care about, so I click through them with just a glance.

I use this same approach for both work email and home email.

In the spirit of Gmail, I don't delete messages (usually).  So far, after using Gmail since it began, that's not been a problem.  The excellent search capability means it's not difficult to find and email message that I may need.


Sigh.  I think it's probably time that I started paying attention to IPv6.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Dog Named Beau by Jimmy Stewart

[Video] This has been a favorite moment of mine for a long time.  I enjoyed watching it again when Penny sent this out the other day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Out Though the Blog, In Through Email

With the communication world seeming as unstable as the Genesis Planet, I'm wanting to retreat to the blog as the only reliable home for my outgoing messages.  It's relatively permanent (as things on the Internet/Web go) and I “own” and control all of the content.  I can edit or delete any posting at any time.

The next problem is notification.  How do I let particular friends or readers know I've posted something.  They could subscribe to an RSS or similar feed from the blog, but that requires action on their part.  I doubt they'll do that, so I need to send a notification to them.   If they tend to be gathered in one of the usual places like Facebook or Buzz, then the blog can be gatewayed into those sites.  However, the most reliable of all is to use old-fashioned email.  In spite of the fact that, apparently, almost noone uses email any more, generally everyone still reads it.

Finally, there's the need for a back channel for comments, where individuals can post a follow up to something that has been said or, even better, a conversation, where a group can accumulate on-going comments that they all see.   This is still the missing link, IMHO.  There doesn't seem to be a good general mechanism for doing this. You can do it with Buzz, Facebook, but those may be subsets of people and the groups, e.g., on Facebook, don't always align with the set of people I might want to have a conversation with.

And, for some of these sites, you never know what crazy things they'll go off and do with your privacy or sharing permissions.

Right now my personal solution is to use email to collect responses then manually publish them, if requested, and manually fan them back out to the list (if there is one) if it involves a small, closed group.

I still say the classic BBS is the best solution, but it only works if everyone in the group joins the BBS and then, either they read it regularly, or it has a notification system that will work for all of the participants.  Again, the only such notification system I know of is email.  Well, I guess text messages to phones works pretty well, too.

I have to say that it looks like Posterous really seems to handle all of the above really well.  It's highly email-oriented to the point that you can practically do all of the above including posting and follow up comments via email.  You can limit a blog to a particular set of participants using only their email addresses which means they don't have to set up accounts on Posterous and don't have to log into the site.  In fact, a particpant can never look at the blog at all, so it all functions like an ad hoc email list.  This is quite huge, really.

Another similar and interesting site is does actually require you to log in or authenticate to continue on a conversation, which ends up being similar to a Brizzly picnic.  But watch out for that Libian domain name!


If you want to leave a comment on a post here, please send me a message.  Be sure to indicate whether or not  you want your comment published.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Steve Wozniak on Twit Live Any MInute  (Corrected URL)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Scale of the Universe from Primax Studio

Beautifully done!  This model is extremely well executed.

Of course, this will remind some of us of the Powers of Ten film that we were awed by in the 70s.

EPA on Bedbugs

Excellent general information on the problem.  The EPA has a pretty good site with information on bedbugs.  It actually goes beyond just pesiticide information.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Corporate developers: exclusive first look at Application Craft

From @scobleizer, a new tool for corporate web apps.

 “Today Application Craft (CrunchBase info on Application Craft) is releasing a new system that looks somewhat like Visual Studio, but is completely web based.”

The Persuaders

With Tony Curtis and Roger Moore was a show I used to like.  Here's the pilot episode (video).  It was reminiscent of shows like The Man from UNCLE (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum), I Spy (with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp), and others.


With Fox Sports local channels holding out on renewing Dish Network contracts for a 50% increase in charging, I'm glad to say we finally subscribed to  This is a step toward removing the traditional media and buying programming directly from the source.

There's been a lot of talk on TWiT and related shows recently about disintermediation of the carriers and resellers of TV programming.  It would be nice to find the program you want and click on it to buy, say a year's worth of a particular show.  You get the shows you want instead of a cable bill.

A lot of things have to happen before we get there, well, at least a few, but I've heard a number of folks say they only watch T'V on the Internet and don't use the traditional sources.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The lifespan and depth of tweets vs blog posts | cre8d design

An interesting blog post, with links, on the whole question of microblogging vs. traditional blogs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Setting the Bar

From the Bad Astronomer, a nice piece on barred spiral galaxies.

Image NGC 1365. From the site: “Images credit: ESO/P. Grosbøl”

Functional Programming, from Java to Scala

An excellent blog post by Eric Armstrong September 23, 2010.

Summary: Dick Wall's talk turns out to be a treasure trove of useful tidbits, and a great introduction to Scala that whets my appetite, big time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Happy Autumnal Equinox Wednesday 22 Sep at 23:09 EDT.

Fun With Say

If you have a Mac, try this.  Open up Terminal (it's under Applications/Utiltiies) then at the command line type:

    say -v "Cellos"  "Droid"

You can actually type anything in the second part you want to say.

    say -v "Cellos"  "Wow, this is really interesting.  I did not know you could sound like this."

In fact, you can just type

    say -v "Cellos"

Then keep typing lines of text.  To end it, hold down the Control key and press D  (Ctl-D).

There are also many different voices you can play with.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

So Long Jack Horkheimer

Age 72, 'Star Gazer' and host of public TV astronomy show.  From the Washington Post.

Jack Horkheimer, a playwright turned amateur astronomer who inspired millions of people to look a little closer at the nighttime sky with his pioneering planetarium shows and long-running public television show, "Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer," died Aug. 20 in Miami of a respiratory ailment. He was 72.

Mr. Horkheimer served for 35 years as the director of the Space Transit Planetarium at the Miami Science Museum. He turned presentations there from academic lessons into whiz-bang shows that used music, metaphor and animation to explore the night sky and inspire curiosity about the heavens.

I remember Jack as quite a character at SEPA meetings in the 80s.  As far as I know, we were the first planetarium outside of Miami to stage his fantastic show, Starbound, around 1983 I think.  We opened it so soon, it was barely ready and they had to send the script, soundtrack and slides to us from Miami via Delta Dash.   I still can recall clearly the afternoon when one of our guys drove out to the airport to pick up the package.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

“Programmers work long hours trying to design stuff that keeps them from having to work long hours.”

—David Allen, from Making It All Work

Kindle Update

Used to the flip, now wishing for ragged right.

Since I've been reading Kindle books (yeah, I have a second one) for a couple of days, I've gotten used to the page flipping feature.  It's a little more convenient now that I've discovered that I only need to touch the left or right side of the screen and don't have to physically swipe across it.

Currently my only complaint is that the text is left- and right-justified instead of ragged right.  I much prefer the latter, especially on the newspaper column-sized display of my phone.

Other than that, the text is beautiful and easy to read.

Serious Vulnerability in Adobe PDF Reader

Avoid opening a PDF file until you fix this!  Basically a carefully crafted PDF file can allow an attacker to take over your computer.

If you are a Windows user, it's best not to open any PDF files until you install EMET (see the link below).

On the Mac (OS X) the Preview app, as far as I've been able to find so far, is not vulnerable.  I've yet to find what seems like an authoritative, definitive statement.

From Adobe's announcement for CVE-2010-2884:

A critical vulnerability exists in Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Solaris, and Adobe Flash Player for Android. This vulnerability also affects Adobe Reader 9.3.4 for Windows, Macintosh and UNIX, and Adobe Acrobat 9.3.4 and earlier versions for Windows and Macintosh. This vulnerability (CVE-2010-2884) could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system.
Here are some other discussions and important information.

From Softpedia

From Computerworld — This is actually a debate over whether this is a return of the so-called “Google attackers” but, in fact, it has a good summary of the attack background and activity.

In this Buzz, Robert Bayardo tells how to go to chrome://plugins and activate the built in PDF viewer that is not vulnerable.

Microsoft has released EMET 2.0 (Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit) which should be installed and which will offer some protection on Windows systems.  If you are a Windows user it is important that you install this!

Sophos security advisory APSA10-02

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Bought My First Kindle Book

But I haven't bought an actual Kindle yet.  I downloaded the app on my Nexus One Android phone and it works quite well.  I also downloaded the Windows desktop version.  I'll probably soon download the Mac version.

Is there a Kindle in my future?  We'll see how this goes.  The truth is, except for gadget lust, the phone is all I need.  It's where I read nearly everything anyway.

First impressions:  After spending maybe 10 minutes with it, I have to say I'd prefer to just have scrolling text rather than flipping screens.  Recall that scrolls came before books.  With electronic displays, we don't need pages any more.  Yes, I only want to see a “page” of text at a time, but there's no reason I shouldn't be able to scroll down as I read, the way everything else works!  It's okay if a  flip, or some other “next” operation, is used to get to the next chapter or, okay fine, even the next section.

I get that flipping screens provides a convenient way to bookmark something, but a bookmark should easily be able to correspond to a simple point in the text.  An actual point, like right there between those two letters.

We are more than a little too hung up on the old book paradigm.  (Look at the iPad book reader which is the worst with it's animated flipping pages.  Good grief!)  The book paradigm should be left behind!  If we're going to do this electronically, we should go all the way!

Oh, and by the way, I've been reading scrolling text on electronic screens for over 33 years!

The skeptic might ask, And you don't ever use the space bar for more(1), or the space bar to page down a web page, or the PgDn key?  Okay, yes, I have used them and still often do.  Granted, paging is okay or even desirable sometimes but it shouldn't be required.  In fact, the Kindle app could allow free scrolling and then page up or down when you swipe left or right.  Why can't it do both like that?

With that rant out of the way, for now, I can say that everything else works fine.  With clearly rendered text, with black letters on a white background, and with a nice font at the appropriate size, all else is well.

Here's an update.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dutch Monkey Doughnuts

@dmdoughnuts, The featured Road Warrier site on Fox 5 Atlanta today, Dutch Monkey Doughnuts is now at the top of our next-destination list.

Place page

On Twitter

The Rise and Demise of Tales of the Okefenokee

At Six Flags over Georgia, since it came up in conversation recently, the currently-named Monster Plantation has an interesting history recounted here on-line at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Still Using Twitter Exclusively Instead of RSS

It's working great!

I don't recall how long it's actually been, but for some time now I've been using Twitter exclusively as a source of news and reading, having completely abandoned RSS (e.g., Google Reader, etc.).  So far, it's been working great.

I have a finely tuned set of a few less than 300 Twitter accounts that I follow.  Adding more usually just adds noise.  Occasionally, I'll try additional accounts but end up removing them later.  I take that as a sign that my list is just right.  It's also important to note that this set of tweeters are almost all people (or robots) that repost links.  There are almost no “Now I'm eating a donut” posters.  A number of the accounts are for official sites like @mashable or @slashdot.  Instead of going to some destination web sites like I used to, I just read the summaries on Twitter, then click in to read the links (stories) that are interesting.

I also have a set of lists so I can read just News, Tech stories, etc., if I don't want to read my complete stream.  The most important thing that lists do is allow reading back farther than just the past few minutes.  It's a characteristic of the real-time nature of Twitter that, if you read during certain times of the day, you get a particular sample of your list of followees.  That sample limits who and what you actually see.  However, reading back through a list, e.g., through a news list, allows reading past that “latest” horizon and results in a better sample of the news of the day.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

LED Hard Drive Clock Demo

This is really neat!

Mt. Wilson One Year After the Fire

From Sky and Telescope.  Most people don't realize that Georgia State University operates the CHARA Array, one of the world's most powerful optical interferometers on historic Mt. Wilson outside of Los Angeles.  Mt. Wilson is the location of the legendary 100-in telescope, the largest telescope ever constructed when it was built, where Edwin Hubble first observed the expansion of the universe.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Amiga 25 Years Later

From Technologizer, 23 Jul 2010 was the 25th anniversary of the Amiga premier.  I was priviledged to use two exciting and revolutionary computers over the years.  The first was the Amiga and the second was the NeXT machine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trans-Neptunian Scattered Disk Objects

I was reading this morning about Eris, the infamous object that caused all manner of trouble for Pluto's status as a “planet.”  I thought Eris was a Kuiper Belt Object but apparently it's a trans-Neptunian scattered disk object.  Who'd have thought.

The solar system refuses to be simple.  I like this diagram though and these linked-to Wikipedia entries are nice.

Oh, and I guess we're now calling Eris a dwarf planet.   (Where now is defined as 2006).

“It's headed toward that trans-neptunian scattered disk object.”

“That's no trans-neptunian scattered disk object.  That's a space station!”

Image link and  credit

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What About Comments (Updated)

You may ask, “What if I'd like to write  comments about posts on Monolith149 Daily?”

Here are some options:


You can reach me on Buzz via my profile here:  stargate149 on Buzz


You can tweet comments to @stargate149.  They can include links to comments you've posted somewhere and/or links to the post you are commenting on.  This is the simplest, easiest to access, most public and most direct method.  (Often I'm slow to see it, though).


If you are reading these posts on Facebook, you can comment there.  If you aren't reading this on Facebook now, you can find them here

Leo Laporte Gets Buzz Back

“It is fixed. Thanks so much to the Google Buzz team which tracked down a pretty nasty bug in Buzz that had made me invisible for 17 days…”  Leo reports  on his blog, Leoville.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Leo Laporte's Buzz Kill

“I was shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves. ”

Leo Laporte blogs about Buzz breaking and the failure of social media.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Check your Facebook Privacy Settings Early and Often!

The new Location feature has been turned on for you by default.  The default setting is limited to friends but you'll need to turn it off if you don't want it on at all.

Location lets any of your friends tell all the rest of your friends and family where you are, or even the whole world if you allow it.  Oh yeah, that's another brilliant idea.

Amazing View of 1999 Made in 1967

This video predicting 1999 from 1967 is amazing to watch.  It was made by Philco.  In case you didn't recognize him, the dad there is Wink Mortendale.

Here's more about the video including links to the whole thing.

(Thanks to Wayne for passing this on!).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Check your privacy settings early and often!

I log onto Yahoo this morning (yes, I still have an active Yahoo account and I only log in to keep it active), first to see this picture.  Then, second, I quickly notice that Yahoo has attempted to turn itself into sort of FaceYahoo (I guess that's what the picture is).  Finally, and most importantly, I quickly discover that I have a Yahoo profile, and they've decided to share my information with all of my “connections.”   Even better, spammers have decided to comment on my various profile entries.  I don't think they can see them because I don't actually have any connections yet, but apparently they can see that some of the particular items in my profile have changed.

So this is the latest brilliant assault on one's privacy by deciding the the thing I'd just forgotten to do myself was share as much information as possible with the world, and helping me out by doing it for me.

I'll be slightly fair.  All of the defaults that share anything are to Connections Only and there aren't any connections until I create them.  Okay, so they switched the power on but nothing happens until I actually plug something in.   I'd much rather the power be OFF, since that was my tacit assumption, until I turn it on.  I consider that a much safer and saner approach.  Maybe that's just me.

If you're a regular Yahoo user, you'll already probably know about this.  If you're an occasional or casual user, you'd better log in and carefully see what's going on.

So now we add Yahoo to the list to which this advice applies:

Check your privacy settings early and often!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Super fast spray paint artist

creates paintings in 39 seconds!  [Video] from Holy Kaw.   Wow!

HTML5 Local Storage

Building Persistent Sticky Notes with... by Andrew Burgess.  Impressive!

Learn Programming and Python

This free, PDF book looks very well done.  If you want to learn computer programming and/or the Python language (recommended for programming in general), check out Learn Python the Hard Way.

I actually set off to write something similar once upon a time and this work echoes my effort almost verbatim, as far as I went anyway.

The author has even created a proposed exercises wiki.

Even though I've only spent a few minutes looking at it, I recommend this book and the process it presents.

For many years I worried about a suitable programming language for starting off and learning to program.  It seemed like the cupboard was bare.   I've now concluded that Python fills that void quite handsomely.  I'm excited to hear that Georgia Tech and other schools are now switching to Python for their intro courses.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Windows Shortcut Vulnerability

Be sure to update Windows XP to SP3.  If you haven't ever done this, now is the time.  The Windows shortcut vulnerability gives malware a wide open door to attack Windows systems.

Microsoft Security Advisory (2286198)

Trend Micro

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Scientists Watch an Atom’s Electrons Moving in Real Time For the First Time Ever

From LBNL:  For the First Time Ever, Scientists Watch an Atom’s Electrons Moving in Real Time.

An international team of scientists led by groups from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) in Garching, Germany, and from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley has used ultrashort flashes of laser light to directly observe the movement of an atom’s outer electrons for the first time.

“With a simple system of krypton atoms, we demonstrated, for the first time, that we can measure transient absorption dynamics with attosecond pulses,” says Stephen Leone of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, who is also a professor of chemistry and physics at UC Berkeley. “This revealed details of a type of electronic motion – coherent superposition – that can control properties in many systems.”

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Many of you will remember MacPaint as being one of the applications bundled with the first Macintosh computers.  Apple has made the source code available via the Computer History Museum.   It was written in beautiful Pascal (the wonderful language that I loved!) by Bill Atkinson.


(If you want to read more Macintosh history and anecdotes, check out by Andy Herzfeld).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Big Bang One More Time

I heard the question:  “What came before the Big Bang?  What exploded?”

Here's an attempt at a brief explanation.

Einstein's general relativity explains gravity in terms of geometry.  Instead of a force, objects move they way they move because mass changes the geometry of spacetime.

Taking the earth as an analogy, we understand the geometry of a ball.  By studying the geometry of the surface of the earth we can easily conclude that we live on a sphere.  Along with that comes the inescapable conclusion that the earth has a center.  We can't go to the center of the earth, but we know its there.

When we we try to determine the geometry of the universe, we find that it's space-time  “shape” implies a center, but one that is in the past.  At this center in the past, the scale of space goes to zero.

We can also use the earth as a different analogy.  If people set out from the equator in the Americas, in Europe and Asia, all travelling north, they will arrive at the north pole.  It doesn't make sense to ask what is beyond the north pole, if you are travelling north on the surface of the earth.

In the same way, the question of what comes before the big bang doesn't make sense in light of the implied geometry of the universe.

There's not an explosion in the they way most people think of.   If you go back in time in the above model, space is smaller and densities are higher.   The temperature and energy density are necessarily higher and, mathematically, go to infinity at the “center.”

That high-temperature past serves a useful purpose for physicists.  It provides another way to answer questions about high energy states of matter and its structure in addition to the large accelerators we've built.

From the point of view of creation, there's nothing that says God couldn't create a full-grown universe as described here just like he created full-grown people.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perpetual Calendar

I had a subscription to Popular Science around 1970 for a few years and, I think, as part of that had this little perpetual calendar on a card that I carried in my wallet for decades.  It was only recently that I removed it and today I found a photocopy I'd made of it.

Here's the same calendar as part of an on-line auction.  It's good through 2059.

Facebook Friend Suggestions

Arg!  Facebook strikes again, i.e., it's just another day.  I thought I was accepting friend requests when, in fact, I  was clicking on friend suggestions and ended up sending out  friend requests.

It's not a huge deal since they were people I know.  My usual practice is to just receive requests.  Then, if they are from folks I know, I'll usually accept them.  However, I rarely send them out.

The moral is, always pay attention to the labels.  Yes, they are clearly marked, actually.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt is Gone!

I was looking at some of the amazing images on Brian Combs' web site and noticed that Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt is gone!  The article in Sky and Telescope mentions that this has happened recently, to a lesser degree.   I know that Jupiter's clouds change over the years, but didn't remember an equatorial belt completely disappearing.

One nice side effect is that the Great Red Spot is now easier to see, maybe for the first time since the 70s (when it was very red).

Article at

Image linked to at Sky and Telescope

Froyo's Color Trackball LED

Heh, when I received Google Voice mail yesterday, my track ball flashed green!  That's the first time I've ever seen it any color other than white.  That's another small but neat feature of Froyo.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blogs to Facebook (Update)

Removing and re-adding the import seems to have fixed it.  What a pain.

Let's see if this one appears.

(Update) Yep, it worked.  I suspect they wanted me to click the policy/agreement acceptance check box and click the Confirm button again, but I don't recall ever receiving a request to do that.  It just quit.  Ah, well.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blog Gateway to Facebook

It seems that my blog posts are not being picked up by Facebook again.  I wonder why.  Let's see if this one works.  Maybe it eschews the shortened links I include sometimes.


Amazing starry sky, planetarium in your computer software!

It seems I've never mentioned Stellariium here.  This free, open source software is amazing!  It's as nice, and as nice looking, as any planetarium program I've tried.

Friday, July 09, 2010

TWiT Cottage Studio Rewired

Here's a neat time-lapse video of the TWiT cottage studio being rewired.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Friday, July 02, 2010

Those Annoying Horns

Didn't we have these horns, years ago in high school, at football games and such?  It seems like they were sort of red and plastic.  Of course we didn't suffer everyone blowing them incessantly.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Hooray!  My Nexus One told me this morning it had downloaded Froyo (Android 2.2) and was ready to reboot and install it when I was.

The only thing that doesn't work so far is Advanced Task Manager, which is made a bit obsolete since the OS itself how supports killing off any task.  ATM would kill any task, actually, but seemed to have trouble killing itself.

The only visible change on the screen is that the app menu is now joined by an icon for the web browser to the right and an icon for making a call to the left.  That's a bit redundant since I have those two icons on my center screen anyway.  I suppose I can replace them with something else now.

I'm most looking forward to trying out the wifi hotspot feature that lets my phone be a wifi hotspot for any nearby devices while it's using it's 3G connection.  That means that, e.g., while on a trip, everyone in the vehicle can log onto and use my phone as their wifi source for their laptops, phones, ipads, whatever.  Then they can all browse the Internet, watch video, etc., at will.  I've heard that you really want to have it plugged in to extra power for this, but that's not a problem in the car.  Currently T-Mobile doesn't charge any extra for this.

My enthusiasm is a little lower for support for Flash on web sites.  I'm sure there will be many times when I'm glad it's there.  It's supposed to be pretty CPU-intensive and thus battery-draining.

A nice video about Froyo features.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Monitor Died

I was using my desktop workstation yesterday and suddenly the monitor slowly faded to black.  It's almost like the power-saving mode involuntarily kicked in.  Alas, it seems to be dead.

This is kind of sad.  It's the last glass CRT in the house, at least on a computer.  I'm sure there's a replacement out in the garage.  However, now that everyone is using Macbooks nearly all the time, they are lobbying to get rid of the last computer workstation downstairs.

I think it would be a good idea to keep it around for quick lookups.  Well, okay, most of us use our phones for things like that.  What about visitors who want to check their Facebook account and such?  I think it would be good for that.  And if nothing else, I think the LCD monitor, keyboard and mouse should stand by for a laptop to be connected when more screen space is wanted.

In any event, it's pretty clear that the desktop computer is on the way out at our house.  This is certainly a sign of the times and the day that we knew was imminent.    The desktop computer is disappearing.  They'll never be gone.  There are many applications where a big screen, keyboard and mouse (well, I think) are needed.  They might just be connected to your laptop or who knows what.

Ah well, in any event, I'll be replacing the old, gigantic CRT on my desk with an LCD panel which is long overdue anyway.

Email Quiet

Hmm.  My inbox on Gmail is strangely silent this morning.  All my messages are read.  Granted, I've been thinking a lot more about GTD in the past 24 hours, which includes the concept of inbox zero, but I didn't expect just thinking about it would produce such dramatic results.  Are all of the spammy commercial vendors (which I basically expect to get email from, i.e., it's of some relevance or from vendors I use) are tired after the Father's day barrage?

I checked my domain names.  None have expired or expire any time soon.  I checked whois and I still own them all.  I used dig to check MX records and they are all in order.  I tried to connect to MX servers and couldn't but that's (I'm sure) due to ISP restrictions on directly originating email, a good tactic to discourage spam-generating viruses.

I tried an email message from Yahoo mail to my domain address and it worked.  Looking at the original message and the headers, there was a seven-minute delay as the message was relayed on internal Google servers.

But the quiet is weird.

I look in my spam folder, which I usually *never* look at.  It's probably been months or years since I actually opened up the spam folder.  Well, probably.  There are surprisingly few messages in there and nothing that looks interesting.  In fact there is only a grand total of 14 messages for all of June so far.


I tried another message to an address on another one of my domains.  This one relayed through with only a small delay, 39 seconds from start at Yahoo to finish at Gmail.

Still, it's quiet.   Too quiet....

Happy Summer Solstice

on Monday 21 June 2010 7:28 EDT (11:28 UT).


Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the Shadow of the Moon

Whether or not it was one of the defining motifs of your teenage years, but especially if it was “before your time,” everyone should watch this amazing and beautiful film, In the Shadow of the Moon.

Main web site: with trailer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What is a ton of AC?

This explanation by coldfuse on the web site looks quite good.

Re: Ton of air conditioning
by coldfuse on 02/06/02 at 20:53:16

Just wanted to provide background on the derivation for tons of refrigeration, and provide information on the similar SI standard.

The latent heat of fusion for ice is 144 BTU/lb. For one ton, that is 2000 lb x 144 BTU/lb, or 288,000 BTU. Refrigeration's roots are in the ice making industry, and the ice guys wanted to convert this into ice production. If 288,000 BTU are required to make one ton of ice, divide this by 24 hours to get 12,000 BTU/Hr required to make one ton of ice in one day.

This is simply the requirement for the phase change from liquid to solid -- to convert +32 deg F water into +32 deg F ice. As a practical matter, additional refrigeration is required to take city water and turn it into ice.

One BTU is the heat removal required to lower the temperature of one pound of water by one degree F. In SI units, kilocaries are used. One kilocalorie is the heat removal required to lower the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree C. One ton of refrigeration is equal to 3024 kilocaries per hour. It is basically the 12,000 BTU/Hr divided by pounds per kilogram divided by 1.8 (to get from degrees F to degrees C).

I hope this explanation hasn't been too cumbersome and will be helpful for someone out there! I'll :-X now!

Friday, June 18, 2010

About Cousins

In case you find cousin relationships confusing, here are the basics.

All grand children are first cousins.  All first cousins have the same grand parents.  (Except some are sibllings).

All great-grand children are second cousins.  All second cousins have the same great-grand parents.  (Except some are first cousins and siblings).

If your grand parents are someone's great-grand parents, then they are your first cousin once-removed.  They are your kids' second cousin.

If your grandparents are someone's great-great-grand parents, then they are your first cousin twice-removed.

It keeps going but that's probably enough to get the idea.


I thought the vuvuzela were insects and that they were just really bad at the soccer games.  There's no question about the fact that they are equally annoying.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Android (particularly Froyo) Advantage Explained

And the resulting threat to the iPhone. Sam Pullara on his Java Rants blog discusses how Android's Java implementation is much improved with Froyo (Android 2.2) and the advantages it has over iPhone's Objective-C.

I'm also coming to understand more how much the garbage collector (GC in the quote below) and over-allocating data from the heap or failing to de-allocate (memory leaks) affects Android performance.  Chances are, if your Android phone seems slow or choppy, you're waiting for garbage collection.

Up until Android 2.2 (Froyo) the JVM (really a Dalvik JVM for licensing reasons) on the Android platform was playing with one hand tied behind its back. Different from desktop/server Java, the JVM was still an interpreter, like the original JVM back in the Java 1.0 days. It was very efficient interpreter but an interpreter none-the-less and was not creating native code from the Dalvik bytecodes that it uses. As of Android 2.2 they have added a JIT, a just-in-time compiler, to the stack that translates the Dalvik bytecode into much more efficient machine code much like a C/C++ compiler. You can see the results of this in the benchmarks of Froyo which show a 2-5x improvement. As they add more and more JIT and GC features that have appeared in HotSpot, JRockit, etc, you will likely see even more improvements over time — without having to change or recompile the 3rd party developed software.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sky and Telescope article on CHARA

Tony Flanders writes about Georgia State's observatory on historic Mt. Wilson in Sky and Telescope.

Almost 80 years after Michelson's experiment, Georgia State University's Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) arrray became operational atop Mount Wilson. It consists of six one-meter telescopes scattered across the mountaintop. The light from the separate telescopes is brought to an optical laboratory where it is mixed together with exceeding precision and care.

The CHARA array claims a resolution of 200 microarcseconds, 250 times better than the Hubble's theoretical limit of 50 milliarcseconds.

Andy Ihnatko on the iPad One Month Later

As usual, his review is well-balanced and well-said.  I finally got around to reading Andy Ihnatko's column in the Chicago Sun-Times on the iPad after one month of use.  It's quite good.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bruce Artwick, Creator of Flight Simulator

Robert Scoble interviews Bruce Artwick, the creator of Flight Simulator which we mostly know as the MS Flight Simulator.

I own and enjoyed the first version on the Amiga 1000, before MS bought it.  I've always been a huge fan of FS.

Watch for Comet C/2009 R1 (McNaught)

It should be visible in the pre-dawn sky.  Details are here at Sky and Telescope in their Observing Highlights section.

Note that this comet should not be confused with “Comet McNaughts is C/2006 P1, also known as the Great Comet of 2007” or any of McNaught's 52 other comet discoveries!

Monday, May 31, 2010


Facebook flipped upside down.

Search Twitter with

A nifty new tool for finding old tweets.

The Allman Brothers Big House Museum

I knew this was a project being worked on, but I didn't know the Big House Museum was open!

Ribbon Cutting Video

Quadrotor Helicopters, Drones

Coworker Brian first told me about these a few days ago.  I find them amazing, fascinating, and a little disturbing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

@Brizzly Picnics

Sounds like what I'm looking for!  Could it be?

Using Google Wave In Your Work Group  This is a nice, concise video (2m13s) on how Google Wave can help a work group interact! Excellent!


I never became a fan of Lost.  It looked interesting and I watched a handful of episodes, but as soon as I saw a dark cloud flying around and doing things, I became much less interested.  It seemed that the writers were creating a world with no rules, where they could make anything happen whenever they wanted, and that's just not interesting to me.

I guess this is why I like science fiction.  A little magic is always okay.  You know, faster-than-light travel, space travelers that aren't weightless, time travel.  Even creating a new universe is okay if the new rules are explained.  But, please, not like The Matrix where the explaining seems to go on for hours!  In my favorite review of The Matrix, the author said it was like someone sitting down to explain a new card game and an hour later they are still going over the new rules.

Sometimes, when watching media today, it reminds me of when we were kids, playing.  Someone would say, ``Wait!  I know what we can do.  You can be this and you can be that, then we'll....''  I get the feeling the film makers are out on location literally making up the story as they go along.  I'm not saying that kind of spontaneous creativity is necessarily bad, just that it shouldn't show.

When those two things are combined (or seem to be), then that's not a show that will hold my attention.  To be fair, though, even a good show may not hold my attention for long.  I tend not to watch any TV show for more than a season and a fraction.  There are notable exceptions to this, of course!

I like the tweet by @Ihnatko:

So long as Bob Newhart remains alive, ending any series with him saying "Emily...I just had another weird dream!" is an option.