Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out with the old, in with the new

Engine oil, that is. Not the nicest day for an oil change, but appropriate nonetheless.


From all of us me at Scotch Tape & Duct Whisky, happy 2012. May it kick 2011 in the ass.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What does Emily Post say about dead guests at weddings?

I haven’t played Skyrim yet, but I enjoyed reading the changelog:

- Fixed occasional issue where a guest would arrive to the player’s wedding dead

- Dragon corpses now clean up properly

- Fixed rare issue where dragons would not attack

- Fixed rare issue with dead corpses being cleared up prematurely

Dead corpses being cleared up prematurely

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On pride

The following originally appeared on Facebook. I think I wrote it because I needed to remind myself.

In a comment elsewhere on Facebook, a stranger wrote:

So no I do not understand having pride in being a penn stater right now when the rest of the nation is quite frankly disgusted by your school.

Let me help.

I'm proud to be a Penn Stater because I received an excellent education that I would have had to pay much more for anywhere else. I did meaningful research throughout my undergraduate career. My advisor and the other faculty in my department were world-class, and so many of them went out of their way to improve my education. I went on to the best graduate program in my field, and my preparation was second to none. The people at Penn State who made this possible have nothing to do with the travesty now unfolding.

I'm proud of Penn State because it was the kind of place where you could skip Art History (yet again) to sneak off to the Creamery and have a cone with Whit Diffie. Or find yourself standing at a urinal next to Sir Roger Penrose.

I'm proud of Penn State for the elms and the cow fields and capture-the-flag on the golf courses at midnight, and the grilled stickies afterward. And the friends who were there through all of it.

I'm proud of Penn State for the guy in my dorm who took down a murderer on the HUB lawn. Because when you see violence happening in front of you, that's the right thing to do.

I'm proud of Penn State because, even though I now live a couple of hours from campus, there's "canners" at my local grocery store every year, standing in the cold, raising money for kids with cancer.

I like Penn State football, but my pride and love for Penn State were never based on that. And I sure as hell never loved the administration (does any faculty, staff, or student anywhere?). They were not the foundation of my pride, and their failures will bruise, but not destroy, that pride. The university is more than them, and what they did will not erase the achievements of hundreds of thousands of good and decent faculty, students, and alumni.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On optimism

Christian Annyas provides a chronological survey of Chevrolet speedometers.

Chevrolet Cruze (2008)

Related: The top speed of a 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ was 124 mph in Car & Driver testing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Skin cancer, possession by demons, whatever.

MSNBC, on hair stylists noticing signs of skin cancer:

Most people make 10 visits or more a year to see their hair dressers and barbers and they tend to look more carefully for mold and legions on the scalp.

Emphasis mine.

Mangled metaphor of the day

David Vladek of the FTC:
If you don't come up with that novel use for that data, it's an albatross that will come back and bite you.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A true story

Several years ago, on my birthday, the Future Spousal Unit and I were relaxing on a beach in northern San Diego county, killing time before dinner with friends.

As we sat there, a blimp flew in front of us, following the shoreline.

It told me I would have a good year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sentence of the day: Exchange rate edition

Matthew Yglesias:

Meanwhile, since voters are strongly nationalistic and strongly confused, they think a “strong dollar” is good but that “Chinese currency manipulation” is bad, even though the point of Chinese currency manipulation is to make the dollar strong.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bleg: Mummification and curses

Suppose, that when our pets perish, the Spousal Unit and I wish them to continue in an eternal journey. We are fortunate to live in an era when mummification is (again) readily available for our animals.

Obviously, our home of wood-and-drywall is an inappropriate eternal resting place for them. It is likely to be sold, and if it isn’t, its impermanence will expose their mummified remains to the elements. Instead, we should go with a more traditional tomb to shelter them on their eternal journey. We therefore have the beginnings of a plan:

  1. Mummify the remains of the deceased pet(s)
  2. Rent a room at the Luxor Las Vegas, for (approximately) one night
  3. Place the mummified remains in the room, in addition to provisions for the eternal journey (Mummy Chow, etc.)
  4. ?????
  5. Our pet(s) enjoy their eternal journey, without disturbance to their mummified remains

The missing step is #4. Our limited means will not allow us to rent a room at the Luxor in perpetuity. Instead, once we have access to the room for a night (or a few nights), we wish to place a curse on the room, which will prevent any subsequent disturbance to the room or its contents (e.g. by housekeeping or security staff).

What is the procedure for instituting the curse? Are there traditional priests in Egypt who can provide this service? Must they travel to Las Vegas, or can they telework? Could we, perhaps, embed the “Do Not Disturb” sign with magical powers? Our Dobermen Pinscher has a talent in life for producing noxious fumes. Can this ability be leveraged to protect the burial suite?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Revealed preferences

Steven Sinofsky writes in the outstanding Building Windows 8 blog:

Few operations in Windows are as scrutinized, measured, and picked apart as boot. This is understandable—boot times represent an effective proxy for overall system performance and we all know the boot experience is an incredibly important thing for us to get right for customers. Data shows that 57% of desktop PC users and 45% of laptop users shut down their machines rather than putting them to sleep. Overall, half of all of users shut down their machines rather than putting them to sleep.

See, my interpretation would have been: The 57% of desktop PC users who shut down their machine instead of putting it to sleep must not care very much about boot time. Otherwise, they would just put the damned thing to sleep instead.

I guess that’s why I’m not in charge of Windows 8.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bastard logo-child of LG and Apple

MacObserver reports that Apple is objecting to a Chinese trademark filing by Sichuan Fangguo Food Co., Ltd, on the grounds that it is too similar to Apple’s logo:

Personally, I think LG has an even stronger case:


So sharp, it’s blury!

A marketing email from GearXS advertises this Blu-ray player:


Protip: “Blu-ray” is only missing one letter, not two.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

ST:TNG coming to Blu-ray?!

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s LeVar Burton just tweeted:


This seems to be a step up from previous reports by anonymous sources. Can’t wait. The TOS remasters are excellent.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Roads: Windber has too many

Windber has an "Excess Road" to Route 56:

View Larger Map

Word of the day: Vomitory

Penn State Live details some improvements at Beaver Stadium:

Penn State fans will see several significant upgrades at Beaver Stadium that have taken place during the off-season when they attend the season-opener against Indiana State on Sept. 3 (noon kick).

The most significant changes to the venerable facility include:

- Improved drainage in seating areas

Also in the East and West stands, vomitory ramps have been improved to allow for increased and easier access by ADA patrons to the new seating areas.
Fans will also notice significant changes on the North side of the stadium. The Section NF vomitory ramp has been modified with a gentler slope to permit ADA spectators to enter the North field level seats from Section NF, rather than the visiting team tunnel.

Now, I know that a lot of people drink too much at the games, and that has consequences. At last year’s Michigan State game, the guy next to me was removed because we were afraid he’d lose his lunch on our shoes.

But it never occurred to me that the stadium required special drainage channels for vomit.

It turns out that vomitory has a specialized meaning in stadium architecture.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

GeograFAIL: It’s college football time!

BowlBus provides charter bus service from various cities to college football games. But you may want to double-check that the driver knows where he’s going.


(Admittedly, last year’s Penn State @ Indiana game was played in Washington, DC, so maybe their planners just gave up after that.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meanwhile, on the Apple org chart…


Euphemism for “corruption” of the day

The Consumerist, on a proposed tunnel between Alaska and Russia:

Russia's complex business and political interests, though, could stop the venture in its tracks.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Astonishingly forthright winemaking quote of the day:

Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards:

As with the garage wines of Bordeaux, the California cult wines are not a serious part of the fine wine industry.

The Spousal Unit and I were married 6 years ago (today!), and we’ve purchased wines from the 2005 vintage to drink on our anniversaries (out to 25 years, at least). Six bottles of the 2005 Ridge Monte Bello are the cornerstone of this collection. Because we purchased them on futures, we were able to attend the barrel tasting for the 2005.

Paul Draper, a national treasure of winemaking, was behind a table, pouring. And he was standing there alone, with nobody at the table talking to him. I asked him some dumb question about how the 2005 was likely to evolve in the barrel, and he replied graciously. I’m honored to have had a glass poured by him.


Friday, August 19, 2011

From satellite to LTE for rural Internet access: Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed the shortcomings of WildBlue satellite Internet, and my plan for switching to Verizon Wireless 4G LTE upon deployment in my area.


The Pantech UML290 LTE USB modem arrived by two-day FedEx (no direct signature required) on schedule August 17, the day before LTE was scheduled to go live in my area. In fact, I had already heard reports that LTE was up and running, so I proceeded with activation on the 17th.

In the shipping box was a box containing the modem, with a USB extension cord and a driver CD. A SIM card was also included.

The instructions directed me to call a toll-free number to activate the modem. I did so, and entered the new mobile number associated with the modem, but I was flummoxed when the phone system asked for a password. My Verizon Wireless website password didn’t work. I stayed on the line for a human, who again asked me for my password. I asked for a hint (for example, they often suggest using your mother’s maiden name when setting up the password). She demurred. I verified my identity with my Social Security number, and she asked me for a new password. I gave her one, and she rejected it because it was more than 5 characters in length.

That would have been a useful hint, lady.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From satellite to LTE for rural Internet access: Part 1

The starting point

The Spousal Unit and I moved to a 20-acre rural property near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, about four and a half years ago. There’s no cable or DSL service at our home, nor is the local wireless ISP an option, due to obscuration by terrain and foliage.

Consequently, our Internet access has been provided by WildBlue satellite Internet, which I consider a method of last resort. I’ll provide the numbers below, but satellite Internet access is slow, high-latency, expensive, and unreliable in bad weather. It also has low monthly data caps. These factors limit our ability to use the modern Internet:

  • Low speed: Slow downloads, no Netflix or other video streaming.
  • High latency (due to the travel time of light to and from geostationary orbit): No gaming, no voice or video conferencing (Skype, Facetime).
  • Small data caps: No Netflix or other video streaming, no digital software distribution (Steam, TechNet), no offsite backups. Care must be taken with podcasts, MP3 purchases, software updates, etc., to avoid exceeding the cap.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great warranty service: Classic Accessories

About two years ago, we bought a Weber Genesis gas grill. At the same time, we bought a Weber grill cover, but when I got home, I saw that the reviews for the Weber cover weren’t great. I returned the Weber cover and bought a Classic Accessories medium BBQ cover, which was less expensive and had better reviews.

It was a perfect fit and looked good on our deck. For two years, we were completely happy with it. But this spring, when we moved the grill outside, we noticed that the fabric had become brittle, and it started tearing from normal handling.

I looked up the warranty information, expecting it to be a one-year warranty. To my pleasant surprise, it was a three-year warranty, so my cover was still eligible for replacement. But here’s the best part: Instead of having to pack up and return the damaged cover, costing me time and money, I could submit a claim simply by emailing the warranty form and a digital photograph of the damage. Outstanding!

That’s what I did, and two weeks later, I received a new grill cover. No hassle. I wish everyone would handle warranty claims this way.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

K-Cups for cats

I recently got the Spousal Unit a Keurig B40 coffee maker for her birthday. This machine uses single-serving K-Cup coffee cups. So far, we’re really enjoying the setup, and we’re drinking too much coffee due to the novelty. I’ll probably write up some more thoughts on the machine and system later.

This morning, however, we realized that the K-Cup system is currently lacking beverage options that appeal to our three cats. I decided to spend a dreary Sunday designing a few new flavors.

Donut Mouse

Before I retired, I loved stopping at my local Donut Mouse on the way to work. A dish of mellow coffee with cream and sugar, and a freshly killed mouse or two was the perfect start to my day. Now I can enjoy the same great taste at home! – Spider

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Don’t look down, Wile E. Coyote!

The Harvard Business Review’s Daily Stat of July 21, 2011, titled “Many Waitstaffers Say Tips Don't Reward Service”:

30% of waiters and waitresses said in a survey that they believe the level of service they provide has no bearing on the tips they receive, a finding that suggests restaurants should query job candidates about their beliefs on this subject, according to a team of researchers led by Michael Lynn of Cornell.

The suggestion that “restaurants should query job candidates about their beliefs on this subject” suggests, to me, that restaurants should select candidates who believe that better service will result in higher tips. Presumably, such waiters and waitress will deliver better service in their quest for higher tips.

But better service doesn’t result in higher tips. At least not much. A recent episode of NPR’s Planet Money covered tipping with the same researcher, Michael Lynn, who said that there’s a “pretty weak relationship” between service and tipping:

Studies have found for example that the amount of sunshine outside have as big an impact as the tips customers leave as the customer's ratings of service quality.

So the HBR is recommending that employers avoid hiring candidates who have a rational understanding of their industry’s (irrational) economics. Pick the guy or gal who goes with “common sense” instead.

The unfortunate thing is, it’s probably good advice.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I oppose sensorship in all its forms.

The Los Angeles Times, reporting on “Carmageddon:”


Click to embiggen.

Update: The LA Times monitors Twitter and corrected the story in response to this post. Also on Twitter, @EditorMark wins the Internet:

Might be an actual job title in China.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Have you herd of immunity?

A new survey, reported at the Science-Based Medicine blog, reveals concerns that parents have about vaccination:

11% – vaccines are given to prevent diseases children are not likely to get

Similarly, I’ve been wasting time and money by regularly filling my car with gasoline, even though it has never run empty once! Clearly, the threat of empty fuel tanks is a conspiracy promulgated by soulless minions of orthodoxy.

Related: Candice Burns Hoffmann, a press officer for the [CDC], said in a release that the United States was experiencing “the highest number of measles cases since 1996,” in large part because of unvaccinated travelers recently returned from overseas.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Anyone who’s been through a CMMI appraisal will know the feeling

Kate St. John reports that a Peregrine Falcon fledgling collided with a window at CMU’s Software Engineering Institute:

He can fly.  He can see well enough to navigate.  He can perch.  He just needs some quiet time to recover.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Duck confit salad with dried fruit & gorgonzola

This is currently my favorite salad. I haven’t given quantities, because it’s a frickin’ salad. Use your eyes, and taste for balance and seasoning.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Zoom Minus Zero, No Limit

Marketers love to boil the nuance away, and reduce a product’s specifications to a single number, which they can then use as a proxy for “quality.” See megapixels, megahertz, and watts.

In compact cameras, the zoom ratio reduces two useful numbers to a single dubious number. It is the ratio of the lens’s longest focal length to the shortest focal length. For example, a 28–280 mm lens has a 10x zoom ratio.

So what the hell is a “0x” zoom, as shown in this Best Buy circular?

0xZoom(Click to, um, zoom)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Risk or selection effect?

Kaiser Fung at Numbers Rule Your World, on the European E. coli outbreak:

One other point: the level of risk is not the same for everyone. Most E-coli fatalities in past outbreaks have been elderly women or children with already compromised immune systems. In this case, 13 of 19 deaths were adult women, a little unusual but still a concentration of risk among a subset of the population. (link)

Just like a lot of situations, the "average" risk is not useful here. It's important to know if you are in the high-risk subgroup or not.

Are women more susceptible to the infection, or do they just eat more sprouts? My anecdotal experience (also, admittedly, on a different continent) suggests the latter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


In which the FAIL Blog fails to recognize a Clerks reference.


Vanity Fair has a nice interview with Jaleel White, who played Steve Urkel on Family Matters:

Is it true that you were originally cast as Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show?

Yep, that’s why the character was named Rudy—it was intended to be a boy.

OK, I’ll confess: Largely due to the Cosby Show, I had never known before reading this that Rudy was a boys’ name. I mean, I noticed men like Rudolph Giuliani going by “Rudy,” but since I grew watching the show, and didn’t know any Rudys in real life, I just thought it was a girls’ name, or a name used for both sexes.

Reading the interview, I figured that at the very least, some girls would be named Rudy as a result of the show. Wrong.


“Rudy” has never been a top-1,000 girls’ name.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lyric of the day: Unit conversion edition

Kris Allen, Live Like We're Dying:

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

Familiarity with this song will be a boon to freshman astronomy majors. Now we just need a song about 202,265 arcseconds in a radian.

Friday, June 10, 2011


is the new thing.

Local journalism today

The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat reports:


I’m a descendent of Joseph Johns, so his ancestors are my ancestors, too. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to meet them. I’m surprised, however, that any of them are still alive, since Joseph lived from 1749–1813.

(Note: The web headline was corrected by the time I wrote this, though the error lives on in the URL.)

Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, WJAC reports:


Well, somebody sold me strawberries and herbs last week. And they sure looked like farmers, but now I’m wondering.

Oh, OK. The Johnstown Farmers’ Market opened May 20, three weeks ago. Whew.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sentence of the day: This prose makes me temporally mental

Ars Technica on Xeon vs. Itanium:

Let's take the last one first, since it came first temporally.

This comes after the part where the author compares an annual revenue figure to a quarterly revenue figure, then just gives up, and stops bothering to even say whether figures are annual or quarterly or product-lifetime or fortnightly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On photorealism

Via Mental Floss, a Web Urbanist article on hyperrealistic painting, like this Steve Mills painting:


I confess that I don’t really get it. The paintings are not realistic, they’re photorealistic. They show traits typical of cameras and lenses, like limited depth-of-field. For all I know, the paintings are painted from photographs.

As a technical achievement, the results are astounding. I’m honestly amazed that humans can do this. But what does the painting add that a photograph lacks? It seems to me like a great deal of extra effort, without an artistic payoff.

Photograph by yours truly. It didn’t take 500 hours. Does it make a difference?

Your daily dose of engineering humor

A classic on missile guidance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That’s one way to pay a debt

Lifehacker on reducing your monthly bills:

If you have a few friends who want to lower their cellphone bills as well, you can get a family plan together and share. Just make sure you pick responsible friends otherwise you can end up screwing if they pay late or cause overages.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Measuring atmospheric pressure by averaging over an ensemble of leeches


The Tempest Prognosticator, also known as the Leech Barometer, is a 19th century invention by George Merryweather in which leeches are used in a barometer. The twelve leeches are kept in small bottles inside the device; when they become agitated by an approaching storm they attempt to climb out of the bottles and trigger a small hammer which strikes a bell. The likelihood of a storm is indicated by the number of times the bell is struck.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remember when we all marinated flank steak?

Google Labs has introduced Google Correlate, which lets you explore temporal or geographic correlations between search queries. The temporal correlator lets you draw an arbitrary curve on the timescale, and see what queries match it:

(Click through to see the query)

I do wish it could connect points with a spline, instead of making you draw the whole curve freehand.

Here are some geographic correlations I’ve found:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Startling Scientific American quote of the day

Scientific American on nocturnal penile tumescence:

It may seem to you that, much like their barnyard animal namesake, men’s reproductive organs the world over participate in a mindless synchrony of stiffened salutes to the rising sun.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Random excellence: Scenes from the Peppermint Tauntaun

Private Dancer

Private Dancer by Balakov on Flickr

Sentence of the day

Myth of the rational firm, redux” edition

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape:

The reason that Sigma priced the SD1 at almost $10,000 is because someone senior in the company responsible for such decisions mistakenly figured that this was a good idea.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Improved SMS interface for Foursquare

Last November, I wrote a post criticizing Foursquare’s SMS (text message) interface. The interface was so badly broken that, more often than not, it was impossible for me to check in to my desired venues.

Last week, I was informed through a comment to that post that a company called DOTGO had implemented a new, improved SMS interface for Foursquare. I’ve tried it out a few times since then, and it’s a big step forward. It attempts to correct at least two of my biggest problems with the old interface:
  • When your venue search matches multiple venues, the new interface asks you to pick which one you meant.
  • The new interface purports to allow you to change your current city. However, I’ve run into problems using this, as described below.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture math

Tomorrow, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping, is the Rapture, when the righteous shall be taken up to heaven, and the earth will become a depraved orb teeming with rampaging, bloodthirsty secularists.

Vision of the post-apocalyptic terror, by afagen on Flickr

Expensive picture of the day

In a world where there are images like yesterday’s astonishing picture of the day, it pains me that this is the most expensive photograph ever sold:

At least it’s orange.

For an expensive way of making photos, see Sigma’s announcement of a $9,700 APS-C DSLR.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Astonishing picture of the day

It looks like it’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book… via National Geographic, Camel Thorn Trees, Namibia:

It’s a beautiful illustration of the color temperature difference between open shade and morning sunlight.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seriously, amigos?

Natasha Lennard, writing in Salon about some stupid Bristol Palin controversy:

Such a furor has grown around Bristol Palin's jawline in recent days, the issue even earned itself the standard suffix of scandal: "Chingate."

Urban Dictionary: chingate

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why does the White House claim to impose terms of use on official photography?

The White House has a Flickr photostream for disseminating official photography, including the excellent work of Pete Souza.

I’m confused, however, by the following statement that appears below the photographs:

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The stipulation that I boldfaced appears to be incompatible with the fact that U.S. Government works are generally not protected by copyright. Indeed, the Flickr page indicates that the license is United States Government Work; that official government web page specifically states that “Anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws… create derivative works”. (The page is consistent with the Flickr page in prohibiting the use of works to suggest endorsement.)

The claimed prohibition against manipulation is of immediate relevance, since an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published a version of the Situation Room photo with Hillary Clinton removed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

CompTIA Security Minus

Today I took and passed the CompTIA Security+ 2008 exam. I don’t see a lot of value in these certifications, but it was a requirement for work, and my employer paid for the exam, so that was all fine.

Anyway, this post is about the security practices of CompTIA, the organization that thinks it’s competent to judge my knowledge of security practices.

Who can argue with that?

Sarah Keefer, in the Penn State Daily Collegian:

Keefer added that even [though] cookies may not seem to fit in with the healthy theme, she can eat more of them guilt-free because they’re smaller.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Astonishingly forthright statement of the week

CIA Director Leon Panetta to Time:

[It] was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets.

Panetta later remarked, “What? We were all thinking it.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Intel, Ore-Ida partner for 22 nm process

The future of computing lies not in French Fries, but in Waffle Fries:

Quote of the day

Dr. Peter Briss, quoted in the New York Times on new research on low-sodium diets:

“At the moment, this study might need to be taken with a grain of salt.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Forty rods to the hogshead

Slashfood, on a quantitative definition of “gluten-free”:

Other countries including Canada, Brazil and Australia have defined gluten-free foods as containing no more than 0.0007 of an ounce of gluten for every 2.2 pounds of food.

Also known as “20 mg/kg.” Look, nutrition labels are already chock full of esoteric metric units like milligrams. Do we have to convert everything to “English” units? Are there readers out there who have a firm opinion on the appropriate gluten limit in ounces per 2.2 pounds of food, but who are unable to do the unit conversion themselves?

Or how about a compromise: Just say 0.002%, or 20 ppm.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sentence of the day: Chutzpah edition

Amazon, on charging customers to store the festering carcass of their destroyed data:
If you have no need for this snapshot, please delete it to avoid incurring storage charges.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iThing

Monday, April 25, 2011

Carnegie Museum of Natural History: GigaPan

Last Saturday, the Spousal Unit and I spent the afternoon at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. The museum was generally excellent. The dinosaur collection is world-famous, with type specimens for Tyrannosaurus rex and Diplodicus carnegii. The explanatory materials were copious, informative, and well-written, including honest descriptions of false steps and ongoing controversies. I think it’s important to show the public that science is not inerrant, but is self-correcting in the long run, and honest disputes are part of the process.

I was, however, disappointed by one of the temporary exhibits, mostly because it turned out to be not at all what I was expecting. The exhibit description read:

Gigapixel Imaging for Science
Through July 24, 2011
R.P. Simmons Family Gallery, Third Floor

Eight stunning high-resolution photos—some up to 17 feet in length—provide incredible detail of subjects such as a bait ball in the Galapagos Islands and one of the world's largest colonies of penguins. The photos were selected by a jury as part of the Fine International Conference on Imagery for Science, exploring high-resolution imaging technologies in science.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eating Parker: Rack of Parker

For more about our 4-H lamb, Parker, see the first installment of Eating Parker.

Seven years ago today, I proposed to my Girlfriend Unit, and for reasons that remain unfathomable except to her, she agreed to become my Spousal Unit. In celebration of this anniversary, not to mention Easter, I roasted a rack of Parker.


The preparation was simple; I applied olive oil, garlic, and herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper, and roasted for 20 minutes at 500 °F. For sides, I sautéed potatoes in duck fat with smoked Spanish paprika, and nuked some frozen peas.

The lamb was, as usual, excellent; very tender, with mild flavor. I’m really getting spoiled with this lamb!

On the night of our engagement, we dined at Bistro 45, and drank 2001 d’Arenberg Shiraz “The Dead Arm.” Since then, I’ve built up a vertical of the wine, from 2000–2006, starting with at least three bottles each, and we open one each year on this occasion. We’re on our second pass through the list, so we drank our second bottle of the 2000 tonight. Unfortunately, neither of us was very impressed with the wine, and I suspect that it was an off bottle.

Decanted off moderate sediment. Youthful dark red. Immediately, wet earth, baking spices, cooked red fruit, mocha. Somewhat austere on the palate, with dust, red berries, iodine. Didn't improve much. A lot of acid and some medicinal notes, with little fruit. Bad bottle? (86 points)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to purchase the 2007 or later Dead Arm vintages in the United States. When 2007 was late being released, I asked @darenberg whether it had been made; they responded that it had, and its release was delayed due to the poor economy. Since then, it has been released in other markets, but I haven’t seen it in the US.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Apple Location Services

My iPod Touch doesn’t have a GPS receiver, so the only way it knows my location is by looking up the detected WiFi networks in a database. The first and most famous such database is Skyhook, and Apple used to use them, but last year they parted ways, and Apple switched to an in-house database.

How do these databases know how to map WiFi networks to geographic location? Well, you can imagine driving a vehicle all over the place, like Google StreetView. In fact, the Googlemobile did detect wireless networks, and got in trouble for collecting a bit more data than was necessary. But I’m sure that kind of survey is one source of data.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weird usage of the day

The Wall Street Journal on iOS vs. Android:

The study also found that although iPad owners are more than Apple “fanboys,” they’re less likely to own BlackBerry or Android phones. Among iPad owners, 27.3% also have iPhones, while 17.5% have BlackBerry devices and 14.2% have Android phones. (The rest use other operating systems or have flip phones rather than smartphones.)

"Flip phone" to mean non-smartphone is a new one for me. (Says the guy who has a non-flip dumbphone.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

F’in Low Dispersion

This is why you pick up a thesaurus instead of letting your engineers name the technology:

FLD ("F" Low Dispersion) glass is the highest level low dispersion glass available with extremely high light transmission. This glass has a performance equal to flourite [sic] glass which has a low refractive index and low dispersion compared to current optical glass. FLD glass offers superior optical performance, equal to flourite, at an affordable price.

ELD (Extraordinary Low Dispersion) glass has lower dispersion characteristics than SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass, which Sigma has been using in its APO lenses (and some non-APO lenses as well) for many years now. It has other advantageous properties as well.

See also: Chateau Potelle VGS wines. They're very good.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Today’s ZipCar IPO was underpriced, so the institutional investors—not ZipCar—made lots of money on the day’s gains:

ZipCar's underwriters, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, just screwed the company and its shareholders to the tune of an astounding $50 million.


By wildly underpricing the deal and selling ZipCar's stock to institutional clients way too cheaply.

Google did it right, using an auction to set the IPO price of its shares. Why doesn’t everyone do it that way?

Maybe “Public Timeline” was not the best name for that


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Slate discovers “consumer surplus”

Annie Lowrey writing in Slate:

It sounds ridiculous, but many economists would love to run this experiment. That is because they suspect that our computers are worth, in some strange way, more than what we pay for them.

Strange? You mean like every other good that people purchase voluntarily?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Decepticons: 16% is not 0%

There’s a local TV ad for a window company. They advertise “5 year no-interest financing, or a 30% factory-direct discount.”

Targ manure! If the cash price is lower than the financed price, you’re effectively paying interest on the financing. But how much?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kinchley’s Tavern

Tim Kang at Serious Eats’ “Slice” blog reviewed the pizza at Kinchley’s Tavern, Ramsey, NJ. A must-stop whenever we return to the Spousal Unit’s ancestral homeland, Kinchley’s has the best pizza I’ve had in my life. So far.

Our mandatory pie is the garlic pie. The garlic is infused with the sauce.

Addendum: Serious Eats also covered the strawberry donuts from Donut Man in Glendora, CA—my all-time favorite donuts. Two coast-to-coast favorites in a single week! Donut Man was also the first place I went in the first car I ever owned. I picked up my 1994 Civic del Sol from the dealer in El Monte in April 1999, and picked up some celebratory dozens for my fellow grad students on the way home. I guess the donuts were lucky; I drove that car to over 200,000 miles before selling it in good running condition.

Monday, April 4, 2011

0 0 1 1 * /usr/bin/issue_award

Via Kottke, Josh Nimoy describes special effects work on Tron: Legacy:

In Tron, the hacker was not supposed to be snooping around on a network; he was supposed to kill a process. So we went with posix kill and also had him pipe ps into grep. I also ended up using emacs eshell to make the terminal more l33t. The team was delighted to see my emacs performance -- splitting the editor into nested panes and running different modes. I was tickled that I got emacs into a block buster movie.

This comes on the heels of wget's flawless performance in The Social Network.

Clearly we have enough momentum for an annual* award for the best performance by a UNIX command in a major motion picture.

I propose calling it the Lexy, after the Jurassic Park character Lex, who exclaimed “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” upon seeing SGI’s File System Navigator fsn**.

* Yeah, both The Social Network and Tron: Legacy were released in 2010. We’ll construct the Award Year to split them, in the interest of making the project viable.
** The best supporting command can get the Yaccy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

C'est un piège !

As a fan of both Magritte and Star Wars I’m surely biased, but this is the best thing I’ve seen in a while:


Friday, March 25, 2011

Like treacle through a pipe…

Here’s what “Quick Fix Engineering” means in Redmond:

  • Release in September 2010
  • Issue a fix in December 2010
  • Deploy the fix widely in March 2011

See also: Windows Phone 7

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sentence of the day: “Myth of the rational firm” edition

Freakonomics Blog on pricing chicken wings:

After all, firms are made up of people, and if people are confused most of the time by economics, why wouldn’t that carry over to firms?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Content sellers: Sell the content…

…not the means of access.

Yesterday the New York Times announced their long-anticipated paywall pricing scheme. Per four weeks:

  • $15 for web site and mobile phone app
  • $20 for web site and tablet app
  • $35 for web site, mobile phone, and tablet

You read that right. If you want to read the same stories on your iPhone and your iPad, you have to pay full price for each. No discount. You even get to pay for the web access twice!

This is ridiculous.

If you’re selling content, sell the content. Stop nickel-and-diming us for every different means of accessing it. Nobody likes that. Amazon’s Kindle platform gets it right. Tell me how much I have to pay to read your stories, and let me read them from whatever device is convenient.

Charging full price for each additional access mode is even worse. Accessing the same content two ways is not twice as valuable as accessing it one way. Cooks Illustrated does the same thing thing, and it’s always pissed me off. I want to read the new, printed magazine in bed, and I want electronic access to the recipe and review archive. But, no, if I want both of these things, I have to pay full price for each. There’s no discount for bundling.

Publishers have seen the downside to digital distribution, as their revenues decline. It’s time to embrace the upside, the near-zero marginal cost of delivery, and give readers what they want.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baked pasta with goat cheese

This is one of my favorite weeknight recipes lately. It gets nice acidity from the tomatoes, balanced by creaminess from the goat cheese. The best part is that you don’t pre-cook the sauce. Just throw it all together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


During the recent aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, I’ve had one recurring thought: This sounds familiar.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Security non-story of the day

Via BusinessInsider, Verifone Trashes Square, Saying It Has "A Serious Security Flaw":

Today is a wake-up call to consumers and the payments industry. Last year, a start-up named Square introduced a credit card reader for smartphones with the goal of making it very easy for anyone to accept credit cards through a mobile device. Seems like a great idea, but there is a serious security flaw that Square has overlooked that places consumers in dire risk.

In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will "skim" – or steal – a consumer's financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader.

So what? Anybody you hand your card to could be putting it through a skimmer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Square user, the 7-11 clerk, or the waiter at your favorite restaurant. There’s no Square-specific risk here. The only story is that Verifone is scared to death of the competition.

Chart of the day: Sierra Erratica edition

In the annual report of the Caltech Employees’ Federal Credit Union:


They tried to carry over the mountain motif used for the page background, but the shape of the mountain, with its decrease at the end, really wrecks the first impression of the actual trend (bar height).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to raise a generation of assholes

Via BoingBoing:

An "A" student at a Virginia middle school was given a one-day suspension for holding open a door for a known adult who had her hands full. This violated the school security policy, which holds that the doors may only be opened centrally after visitors are vetted by a CCTV camera.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Freshness, quantified

How many fresh could it be? None. None more fresh. Via Consumer Reports, on compactified laundry powders:

P&G says its compacted Tide has improved stain removal while the smaller Gain delivers more freshness

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Great Stagnation: Snack bar implications

Economist Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution recently released a short work of non-fiction called The Great Stagnation. The central thesis is that the 20th century was an unusual time of technological “low-hanging fruit” that greatly improved everyday life with relative ease (automobiles, electricity, etc.). We face a “Great Stagnation” where the relative improvement of life for the average person will be quite modest in comparison. We’re not going to see the revolutionary improvement we’ve become accustomed to.

He may be right.


Friday, February 25, 2011

The physical state of pizza

Spoiler: It’s solid.

So determined Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree. In order to determine whether a thrown slice of pizza counted as a "solid object" under the law, His Honor undertook scientific observation of a pie:

MacElree said that to confirm his assessment, he bought a pizza and tested its physical properties. Unlike a gas, the pizza did not take up the shape or volume of the container in which it came, i.e. a cardboard box. When he sliced it into six pieces -- ''because I was not hungry enough to eat eight pieces," he said in an aside - the slices did not reform to take the shape of the container, and thus it was not a liquid.

To confirm that a slice was a solid, MacElree said he picked one up and noted that it retained its basic shape, "although it did droop a bit at the end.

"Further, I was able to bite off one piece which required some chewing before I could swallow it," he continued. "I put the remainder on top of a paper towel and observed that it stayed in place, did not spill onto my desk, and held its shape (less one bite)," he wrote. "I therefore concluded it was a solid."

I’m a bit disappointed that Judge MacElree did not rule out plasma or Bose-Einstein condensate.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Gaga-Burroughs movement [Gross]

Slonkast Episode 24

I was once again privileged to be a guest on the Slonkast this week. Kevin Slonka, Ryan Lantzy, Jim Jacoby, and I discussed Watson on Jeopardy!, Apple’s 30% cut of content sales, and more.

Download Slonkast Episode 24 (MP3, 93.7 MB)
The articles we discussed are linked in the "talking points" at the episode page.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

iAd ante drops 1 octave; 12 to go

Apple has reduced the minimum buy-in for its iAd mobile advertising platform from $1,000,000 to $500,000 to attract “smaller” campaigns.

I’m astonished that it was, and is, so high. Since one of the advantages of the platform is location-based targeting, I would expect small local businesses like restaurants to want to advertise. But the buy-in has to be realistic for small businesses—more like $100 to start. And the iAd platform is well below capacity; the fill rate has been under 10% recently.

Google’s AdWords platform, by contrast, has no minimum campaign budget. I’ve played around with it for $10 or $20, just to learn how it works. I wonder why two smart, successful companies chose such different approaches for this parameter.

Beavers finally on top, as Oxy goes down

It came down to the last shot of the season, but the Caltech men’s basketball team snapped a 310-game conference losing streak that dated back to 1985. ESPN reports:

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Caltech men's basketball team ended a 26-year conference losing streak Tuesday night after posting a 46-45 victory over Occidental in the team's regular-season finale on senior night.

By my count, Caltech faculty won 9 Nobel prizes between the Beavers’ last two conference victories. I boldly predict that that’s an NCAA record that will never be broken.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The miseducation of American pallets

The Johnstown Galleria's Tonic Grille, when not calling young professionals the B-word, has an interesting suggestion:


I concur. Education of this overlooked demographic is a major problem facing America.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quote of the day: “Professionalism” edition

There are fields where professionalism is important. There are others where it is not. It’s always funny watching “professionals” react to those for whom professionalism is not an essential virtue.

Via Letters of Note, Warner Brothers on the Grateful Dead:

It's apparent that nobody in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behaviour…. It all adds up to a lack of professionalism.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PLCB: You will be happy when we tell you to

Via Dad, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports “Greater flexibility proposed for happy hour time”:

Under current law, happy hour—defined as a time period during which a bar offers discounted drinks—can be held for two hours a day.

I’m used to most of the alcohol-related nonsense in this state, but the fact that happy hours are regulated was a new one for me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Frontiers in Space: Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories

I recently won an eBay auction for a vintage publication of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, Frontiers in Space. This black-and-white 48-page volume was one that I had not come across in previous auctions, and I have not found any information about it online. There is no date or copyright notice in the book, just a statement that “Additional copies of this book can be ordered from the Bookstore, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, 65 cents postpaid.” Since it seems to be an unusual book, I have scanned the book to PDF and made it available here, for educational and research purposes.

Frontiers in Space (38 MB PDF)

The book covers the general operating principles of a research telescope of the first half of the 20th century, including mount design and the movement of the telescopes; the use of photography for imaging and spectroscopy; and the various focal configurations (prime focus, Cassegrain, Coudé, Schmidt cameras). The histories of George Ellery Hale, Mount Wilson, and Palomar are presented, including the discovery of the expanding universe (with Edwin Hubble's name nowhere to be seen). A “night's work” for an observer is described, and the book concludes with an overview of the hot research topics of the day.

The book likely dates from soon after the completion of the Hale Telescope in 1948. There are numerous historical details up to that time, but little mention of events that followed.

The PDF was made searchable using the excellent WatchOCR software, which I described in detail yesterday. Final bleg: Can anyone point me to some free software that will let me adjust the logical page numbers in the PDF so that they match the page numbers in the original?

Discovery of a hitherto-unknown male subpopulation

Via FlowingData, the dating site OkCupid has found innocuous questions that have interesting correlates. For example, you can ask your date if he or she “likes the taste of beer”:

What struck me about this graph is how big the difference is between “all” men and men “who like the taste of beer.”

For the difference to be so large, there must be a large population of men who do not like the taste of beer. Furthermore, most of those men—who are, remember, quite numerous—would not consider having sex on the first date.

Who the hell are all these beer-hating, sex-averse men?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Awesome tool: WatchOCR LiveCD


You have a PDF consisting of scanned images (e.g. from an old book). You would like to make it into a searchable PDF, so the text can be searched and copied-and-pasted into other documents.


WatchOCR LiveCD


This was going to be a footnote to an upcoming blog post, but I was so impressed with this tool that I wanted to give it a moment in the spotlight. (Scotch Tape & Duct Whisky is more like a Maglite. The AA size. But still.)

Caption contest: “Big Ben’s meat” edition


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eating Parker: His middle name is Stu

For more about our 4-H lamb, Parker, see the first installment of Eating Parker.

For an early Valentine’s Day dinner, I made an Irish stew, using a 3.5-pound lamb shoulder. I followed this recipe from PBS, adding one head’s worth of whole peeled garlic cloves to the pot with the liquid. I used a bottle of Yuengling Black & Tan for the beer. The stew turned out really well, with tender, flavorful meat and a nice broth. There were ample leftovers, some of which we’ll eat tomorrow, and the rest we’ll freeze.


The wine was 1986 Ridge York Creek cabernet sauvignon. Based on CellarTracker notes, we should have opened it five years ago. Unfortunately, I only bought it 6 months ago.

Clear medium brick-red. Mature nose of crushed fall leaves, sour cherries, tobacco, cedar, thyme. Quite mature on the palate, with much of the fruit faded. Slate, forest floor, tobacco. Thin mineral finish. Hint of grilled meat and redcurrant. A little over the hill. (87 points)

Quote of the day: Lady Gaga puking edition

Lady Gaga, via Bill Marler’s food safety blog:

And I don't want them to think I am human, let alone drunk.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More people line up for iPhone in Johnstown than at flagship Manhattan store

CNN Money:

The line of waiting buyers held just eight people 15 minutes before it went on sale at Apple's flagship New York City store near Central Park.

Johnstown Tribune-Democrat:

Ceroni – scanning the 20 customers in line a half-hour before the 7 a.m. store opening – said, “The customers have been asking for it and we finally delivered. We bonded our relationship with Apple.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On cosmetology and cosmology

Via See the Invisible Hand, the Wall Street Journal reports on the escalating licensure requirements for many jobs:

Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon “shampoo specialists” to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the “theory and practice” of shampooing.

By way of comparison: I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Shampoo specialists spend more lecture hours learning “the theory and practice of shampooing” than I did on thermodynamics and solid state physics, combined.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obsessive possessive

Many businesses are named after their proprietors, using a possessive: Larry’s Auto Body, Audi’s Olde World Restaurant, Krisay’s Appliance and Bedding. Others, however, are not.

Growing up, my parents and I would fuel the car at Sheetz, and note with amusement that one of my uncles would instead go to “Sheetz’s.” But at least Sheetz is the name of the chain’s founder, so even if the sign says “Sheetz,” it is indeed Sheetz’s chain. So, okay, I guess. It still sounds better than Wawa.

The local Mexican restaurant, Rey Azteca (“Aztec King”) is a popular lunch spot for the guys at work. When I first started, they kept talking about “Rey’s.” I was briefly convinced that Original Famous Ray’s Famous Original Pizza had opened in Johnstown.

Since I reviewed a new restaurant, Ambrosia Fine Dining, one of the top search queries bringing visitors to my blog is [ambrosias johnstown pa]. (I have to assume it’s meant as a possessive, since pluralizing ambrosia makes even less sense.)

Is this insistence on possessivizing business names a local phenomenon, or more widespread? I don’t recall it happening when I lived in California.

Scare quotes are the “cool” new thing

The New York Times on Unisys’ new data center in St. Louis:

“We wanted a ‘cool’ building,” Mr. Davies said. “We are hiring a lot of younger folks, and they like the look and feel of being downtown.”

Yeah, any “younger folks” reading that will realize Unisys offers the “look and feel” of a hip new startup.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Long Tail


Click to embiggen. Requisite affiliate link, in case you’re in the market. Three great models to choose from!

Students improve estimation skills; mental health experts distraught

Via the Penn State Daily Collegian:

Unless the students attend Lake Wobegon University, I commend them for converging on an unbiased estimate of their happiness.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sentence of the day: “All that glitters is black and gold” edition

The New York Times, “Hip-Hop Comes to the Super Bowl:”

The song [Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow”] works just fine for the Pirates and the Penguins, too, it should be noted: Pittsburgh is a chromatically narrow town.

Tucson is chromatically narrow. Pittsburgh is beautiful.

Pittsburgh Moonrise 5713