Saturday, April 24, 2004

Why Steve Spurrier Was a Good Thing

Well, not totally good, mind you. But, as Thomas Boswell notes, by "helping" the Redskins to the 5th worst record in the NFL, Washington got to draft Sean Taylor (S/Miami).

Maybe there is a silver lining to every cloud?

(Heh, Blogger's spell check wanted to replace "Spurrier" with "Sprayer".)

Things to try

Blogger has an option which tells every time you post. I've set that up, let's see if it gets any increase in traffic.

In other news, I deleted the Google search box, which I couldn't get working. Will try again someday.

Fixing RSS Reader Panel (Hooray for Open Source)

As you may remember, I've been using the RSS Reader Panel Extension to Firefox to read RSS feeds. Unfortunately, it had a few problems with sites using the atom protocal, including most Blogger sites.

Fortunately, the source code for the RSS Reader Panel is available. Someone with more Javascript experience than me found the problem and fixed it. Details are available at the Reader Panel Message Board. (See message 546.) So far, the fixed version works great. Hope the fix makes it into the next official version.

Fixing Netscape ($&#**^ Windows)

OK, most of my family uses a Windows XP machine. That's OK with me, it's their choice, and they like to do some things that Linux doesn't do well yet.

I have persuaded them that using IE and Outlook is a Bad Idea. Some of them use Mozilla Firefox for browsing, but they all use Netscape to read email.

The problem is that aperiodically Netscape just forgets that they've set up an account. All of the bookmarks are there, but the home page is lost. Worse, Netscape forgets all the information about the email account. The email is still there, but inaccessible by Netscape. This happens to other people, too. It doesn't seem to happen with Linux, at least it never happened to me. The problem seems to be that a file named prefs.js has been corrupted.

There are two possible fixes:

1) Close Netscape/Mozilla. Go to the directory

\Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\default\somefunnything.slt

where UserName is the name of the account with the trashed files, and somefunnything.slt is an arbitrary name Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox gives the account. (They do this in Linux, too. I have no idea why.) By the way, you can look at this account through the Windows Explorer interface, but it's simpler if you use the Command Window. For one thing, some of these directories are hidden by default.

There should be a file prefs.js and another file prefs.bak. prefs.js is the one that's gone bad. If prefs.js and prefs.bak are different, copy prefs.bak to prefs.js. Restart Netscape/Mozilla. Your problem should be fixed. If not, go to 2):

2) If 1) didn't work, you're not completely hosed. Launch the Netscape/Mozilla Mail client and set up a new account. Open the Browser and set up your preferences as you like. If you are using Netscape remember to set your popup window preferences. Close all Netscape/Mozilla windows.

Now go to the \Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\default\somefunnything.slt directory again. You'll find a new prefs.js and prefs.bak. They should be identical. Copy prefs.js to prefs.good.

In this directory there should be a subdirectory called Mail. Go there. There should be at least two subdirectories. One is named something like, and another is The second one will have a newer date than the first. If you do a directory listing, the first (which I'll call pop) will have files like Inbox, Inbox.msf, Sent, Sent.msf, etc., which correspond to the names of your mail folders. The second (pop-1) will have some of those files, but they'll be pretty empty. What you need to do is copy the Sent, Inbox, etc. files from pop to pop-1. I say copy rather than move, because that gives you an automatic backup. Don't copy the Sent.msf, Inbox.msf, etc. files. Those are headers, and Netscape will reestablish them later.

OK, now restart the Netscape Mailer. You may have to re-enter your password a couple of times, but you should have access to all your mail files.

What if this happens again?

Simple. First try step 1) above. If that doesn't work, remember that prefs.good file I told you to save. Simple delete the prefs.js and prefs.bak files, and copy prefs.good to prefs.js. If you changed any preferences after you created the prefs.good file you'll lose them, but you'll still have your email account information intact.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Today's Reading

Hopefully this will be a regular item. Anyway, after finishing up Adrian Goldsworthy's The Punic Wars (the Romans win, Carthage delenda), I went to postmodern physics: Brian Greene's new book, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Relativity.

I read Greene's earlier The Elegant Universe. The parts that I already understood (basic quantum mechanics, general relativity) were very, very well written. The parts that I didn't know (string theory, M-branes, 9 or 10 +1 dimensions) weren't as clear. This may not be Greene's fault. It's hard to describe 10 dimensional systems, especially when 6 or so of them are wound up in complicated snake-biting-its-own-tail toruses (torii?). I was also a bit put off by the fact that Greene implicitly assumes that string theory is the absolutely, positively correct way to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity, even though we can't solve all of the equations yet, so we don't know what the results are going to be.

Coincidentally, this week I heard a talk by Sir Roger Penrose. They have different takes on the basic problem of todays physics: Greene wants to save Quantum Mechanics by modifying General Relativity. Sir Roger wants to save General Relativity by modifying Quantum Mechanics, specifically the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Greene's version, string theory + supersymmetry, has certain verifyable features that should be tested soon. If it fails the test, Sir Roger's version might be looking good.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Rodman DUI

Dennis Rodman pled no contest to a DUI charge stemming from his motercycle ride in Las Vegas a few months ago. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 30 days home detention. His neighbors are appealing.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Confused? Don't Be, Read

The Confusion, Neal Stephenson's next entry in his Baroque Cycle. I wrote a little bit about the first entry, Quicksilver, in a previous post. Special thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library for getting this on order. (What? You think I buy all the things I read? I only have one house, and for some reason my wife thinks we're supposed to move around in it without tripping over books all the time.)

And from one of those Baseblogs,

specifically Sabernomics (Economic Thinking About Baseball), comes the article "Selig’s Shill," which points to a link to a George Will column which has the following lovely sentence: Selig has been -- baseball is a game of inches, but this is not a close call -- the greatest commissioner. And that, boys and girls, tells you all you need to know about the worth of George Will's opinions.

Baseball Blogs

Slate (the one good thing about Microsoft) has an article on Baseball on the web. Not the MLB site, nor ESPN or even The Sporting News, though. These are blogs and websites written by fans. Next time I update the Favorite News Feeds it will have a baseball link.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

More Powerful Than Your Average Babelfish

Alta Vista's Babel Fish (not to be confused with the original Babelfish) is the most popular translation utility on the web. Lately, Google has added its own translation tool. But neither of these will translate Tagalog into Latin. InterTran will. (It was overloaded the last time I tried it, so be patient.)

Tarheels delenda est

18 Years After

On April 26, 1986, a test of the electrical turbine system in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor caused a steam explosion, containment breach, and the worst nuclear accident in history. The around Chernobyl is still contaminated, and will be for centuries. Researchers are allowed in the area. One of them has prepared a series of pictures and commentary on Chernobyl today:

This Week's Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us

Slashdot has a report from CNN: for $ 6 million, minimum, you can arrange to create a small crater on the moon by hitting it with 10 kilos of your personally chosen payload. Heavy bidding may drive the price up. Word is that some people in Washington are looking to dispose of some embarrassing documents.

Runs Versus Wins in Major League Baseball

One of Bill James[*] basic contributions to sabermetrics was to note that you can pretty much predict a team's winning percentage by comparing how many runs it scores compared to how many runs it gives up. He called his version the "Pythagorean Rule" because it went:

Winning percentage = (Runs Scored)2/ [(Runs Scored)2 + (Runs Allowed)2]
On the SABR-L mailing list (a place where people talk baseball, including equations like this) Ralph Caola mentioned that a linear version of this formula,
Winning Percentage = 1/2 + (Runs Scored - Runs Allowed)/ (Runs Scored + Runs Allowed)
works nearly as well.

Playing with this notion a bit made me realize that Ralph's approximation is pretty good even if the Pythagorean Rule isn't. That is, whatever the "best" rule is for relating runs scored to winning percentage, for Major League teams, which aren't that far apart in ability, Ralph's formula is going to be pretty good, with one modification.

I wrote this up for SABR-L and put it up on the web as Linearization of Win Formulas.

Does this apply to basketball? Football? Soccer? It's something that should be looked into. For what it's worth, I'd guess that it works better for basketball than football or soccer, because football seasons (either kind) are short, so there can be big fluctuations that aren't covered by statistical formulas like the one above.

[*]Who went to KU the same time as I did, though we never met.

January 19, 2006: Thanks to Ralph Caola for correcting the linearized win formula, which I had mistyped.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Who's On First

is the greatest baseball comedy routine ever. The text is available at There is also an audio feed (click Media => Audio Clips).

Today's New Phrase

Tornado Bait. It's kind of like Jail Bait, only different.

Monday, April 05, 2004

How much is one shot worth?

At the end of the Connecticut-Duke NCAA semi-final game, with Tech leading 79-75, Duke's Chris Duhon launched a one-footed, one-handed, 40 ft shot with less than 1 second on the clock. It went in, but Duke still trailed 79-78, and Tech won the game. So it's a meaningless shot, right? Wrong. The point spread was Connecticut+2. So about $100 million changed hands in the opposite direction from what would have happened if Duhon had just dribbled out the clock.

(Thank's to ESPN's Mike & Mike in the Morning for pointing this out.)

Yes, I originally had Georgia Tech-Duke. Asleep, I guess.

Looking for a cheap place to build?

Want a nice place to live, free from cares about the big city? Then consider Marquette, Kansas (pop. 593). Not only will people welcome you, they'll give you the land to build your house on.

To be fair, my old home, Holyrood, Kansas, gives you free land, plus free cable for a year. (Call H&B Communications. Ask for Robbie.)

Now you may think that this is a farfetched notion, but let me ask you, oh suburbanite:

How far do you live from your family doctor? Ten miles? How long does it take you to get there? Probably 30 minutes, right? Holyrood only has a doctor a few days a week, but in 30 minutes you're in Great Bend, which has doctors, hospitals, movies, and Dillions.

These towns are connected, too. I don't know about Marquette, but in Holyrood you can get digital cable and a cable modem ISP. Plus cell phone service. And you're only two hours from Wichita, 4 from Kansas City. Think about it, tech types. For what you pay for a bungalow in Silicon Valley, you can by a whole section (that's a square mile, city boy) of land in Kansas. You can make Bill Gates mansion look like an old-style "A" ticket at Disneyland. And you can drive at 80 mph on the turnpike.

This is not a bad place to live.

9:21 p.m. EDT

That's when this year's NCAA Division I National Championship Game began. Why? I can think of three reasons:

  • CBS didn't want to shut out the west coast fans. This way the game starts at 6:21 PDT, or 6:21 MST for Arizona. Of course, the last team from the west that went to the final for was Arizona -- in 2001.
  • CBS really wanted you to watch the Peter Jennings special on ABC about Jesus and Paul.
  • CBS wanted to plug two lousy sitcoms in the 8-9 hour.

("I'm going to take door number 3, Monty.")

Let's see. What would happen if Major League Baseball started a World Series Game at 9:21? Media explosion. "You're keeping the game away from the young fans.!!!" But the NCAA gets a free ride on this. Why?

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I Don't Think We Ordered This

OK, we weren't expecting a delivery on Sunday, but the USPS thoughtfully went ahead and made the delivery anyway. Unfortunately, they left a little something behind.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Sisko: Short Hair, or Bald?

It's up to you to decide. Star Trek Deep Space 9 begins its (re)run on Spike TV starting April 5th. If they play them in sequence, Bald Ben won't show up for a few months.

Why You Should Be Using Firefox

If you can't believe The Washington Post, who can you believe?

OK, FoxNews hasn't chimed in yet.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The quickest way to a faster computer

is to add more memory. Proof:

I run some rather large jobs on this computer, which, you'll remember, had 256 MB of DDR SDRAM. Running those jobs made the response of everything else rather slow. That is, if I wanted to switch between evolution, firefox, and the xterm showing my job, I'd frequently have to wait 15-30 seconds for the windows to repaint themselves.

Upstairs, on the Windows XP machine that the family uses, but which is otherwise identical to this one, we had similar slowdown issues.

Finally, with the swiftness of thought for which I am known, I decided "hey, let's get more memory!!!" (Light bulb.) Doing a Google(TM) search on "Dell Dimension 2350 memory". Someplace up at the top of the adds was They were having a sale, which supposedly ended on March 31. (It's apparently still on.) $97 for 512 MB, free 2nd day FedEx shipping. I took them up on it on Wednesday (the 31st).

Today the memory came. The Dimension has two memory slots, but as ordered our machines came with one 256MB card. I pulled the 256MB from this machine and installed the 512MB card. Closed up the box, turned on the computer. The BIOS said that there was a change in the amount of memory on the computer, and then booted. Fedora noticed the change right way. I started up one of my big jobs. Response is amazingly fast. I can Alt-Tab through all my open windows (about 6 at the moment) in five seconds or less. No noticable delay in painting the screen.

I took the 256MB module and put it in the machine upstairs, so it has 512MB as well. It booted up faster, but not as fast as I'd like. So I ran Ad-Aware, a piece of free software which does search and destroys spyware. Found a bunch. Also deleted a bunch of non-essential things that had found their way into the Startup folder.

Finally, I installed the Windows version of Mozilla Firefox. Child #1 is now happily using it, once we figured out how to find the old Netscape bookmarks. Child was also happy to find an extension, Deepest Sender, which helps blogging on Live Journal.

Now, this memory may go up in smoke any time, I suppose. But Kingston's fairly reliable, and it's been 3 hours or more. I think we had a good day, computer-wise.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Greetings of the Day

While it still is the day, at least in EST (there is no life east of the Chesapeake Bay):

(1) Looking for a job, far, far away from everything? Google has one for you:

(2) What happens when the St. Louis Cardinals wipe out (again) in the middle of the year? Tony La Russa has a plan. (There has to be a Manhattan joke in there somewhere.)

(3) OK, this one's for real: The Washington Post has launched its long awaited RSS Service.