Monday, May 31, 2004

Funny, I never noticed

Except for a year in Switzerland, I've always lived within a hundred miles or so of the 40th parallel. Now I discover that it's a highly charged occult ley line, home of Marian apparitions, and used by Rosicrucians and Druids. And I was totally clueless all of this time.

(This site would be useless without Wikipedia.)

Slight Changes to the Blog

  1. Removed the Internet Storm Center tool as boring. You people are being too good about keeping your machines updated -- we haven't had a big virus outbreak since I put the thing up on May 5.
  2. Moved the Google (TM) search bar from the bottom of the blog to the top. Makes searching much easier.

Forgot to put this in the last searchbar note:
The source code for the toolbar is available from Google as Google Free web search with site search. Note that when it says replace "YOUR DOMAIN NAME" with your sites, they mean without the http:// and any "/" at the end of the address. Also, it only works on the domain level, you can't restrict the search to a given file.

And oh, yes, the link to the search bar came from Blogger Help

Macromedia Flash Update for Linux

Macromedia has released version 7 of its Flash Player for Linux. The official download site is
here at Macromedia,
but there are RPMs available from Rutgers (the State University) at
Note that this is not a Shockwave Player for Linux, which still does not exist AFAIK.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Search This Site

Via Google (TM), of course. I've got it working properly now, just go down to the bottom of this page, fill in the box, and click. Easy, right?

Cicadas -- Week 3

The noise continues ...

But it's not as loud this weekend as it was last weekend. Something new has been added, however

They're flying

Badly, I might add.

I Am Not An Entomologist, but here's what I think is happening:

  • I start walking down the street.
  • Male cicada sees something big approaching.
  • Thinks a bit:
    • It's big, it must be a tree.
    • It's quite, so there are no males there.
  • Bug heads straight for me.
  • At the last second, bug realizes I'm not a tree, and tries to veer off. Simultaneously,
  • I duck. Unfortunately, I'm ducking in the same direction he is.
  • I brush him off, he goes on to the next victim.

Not to mention the ones already on the trees, who have an annoying habit of sticking to the back of your neck when you brush aside the tree branch while mowing the lawn.

Although it's not as loud as last week, it was getting to me yesterday, so I took a walk to the newer neighborhood* across the road. Our neighborhood was built in the 1970s, and the builders did a pretty good job of saving the trees around the houses. As a result, 1987 Brood X's offspring survived to visit us this day. The neighbor's hood was built in the late 1980s and early 90s, and they pretty much bulldozed the area around the roads, though they did keep a lot of trees in the common green space. As a result, a lot of 2004 Brood X was done in at an early age.

The difference is pretty amazing. There, I hear cicadas in the distance. Here, I hear cicadas up close. There, I didn't see any cicada carcases in the street. Here, they're all over. There, I didn't get bumped by a single cicada. Getting there, I got smacked by several and almost threw my back out bending to get away from another one.

It was peaceful, I tell you.


*   I suppose I should explain what I mean by a "neighborhood" for those who don't know. US suburbia is divided into "neighborhoods," which is developer code for "we've managed to gather this big block of farmland which is more or less contiguous, and we're going to subdivide it." A neighborhood generally has a name like "Rolling Hills," "Faraway Farms," or "Eagles' Nest", which is supposed to make you think that you're far away from everything in some mythic, idyllic place, and ignore the reality that you're living with 40-500 families who had the same idea, and with whom you share the same aquifer, swimming pool, and septic field.
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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Graphing with gnuplot

When I first started writing papers, drawing a graph was not too hard. First you sketched out your picture on a sheet of paper. If you were plotting data, you'd used graph paper. For really accurate plots you'd use graph paper with ten lines per millimeter. A photocopy of that would be sent to the journal along with your (typed) manuscript. After the article was accepted, you'd take the figures to the draftsman, who would draw it up with pen and ink, who would send this work of art (and it was) to the camera shop, where they'd take a picture of it and give you a few 8x10" glossies, one of which was mailed to the journal. At the journal they would take pictures of this glossy and send it to their production people, who would get it into the journal somehow.

Eventually computer graphing programs came along. They'd even produce PostScript (TM) files, which could be emailed directly to the publisher. The question was, which program should I use?

I tried a few. We even bought some. But sometime in the early 1990's I found references on Usenet and Gopher to a program called gnuplot. Logically, you'd think this was related to the Free Software Foundation's GNU project, but it's not, the name is a coincidence. In any case, gnuplot was easy to use, had a command line interface that enabled you to use it in script files, and, eventually, came up with an enhanced PostScript interface which let you do a reasonably good job of drawing subscripts, superscripts, and Greek characters.

Oh yeah, sometime after 1995 it also came with a curve fitting routine. Give gnuplot your data an a parameterized function, and it would do its best to find the proper parameters to fit the curve.

I still use gnuplot, but the current version included with Fedora Core 1 is 3.7, released many years ago. Many people have moved to other software programs that I don't understand so well. A popular one where I work is Grace.

So now there's a new gnuplot, version 4.0, released in April. It looks to have more colors, better contour support, etc., yada... I wouldn't know, I just got it installed. I didn't find and RPMs for it I trusted, so I downloaded the source code, and ran my usual
$ ./configure --prefix=/home/local
$ make install

which installed the program in /home/local/bin, where I like to keep programs that don't need to be run as root. And the program worked. Except if I have a selection of gnuplot scripts called, say,
plot1.gnu plot2.gnu plot3.gnu ...
and try to load them using
gnuplot> "plo[TAB]
nothing happened. In other words, filename completion was dead. This works with most older versions of gnuplot.

Turns out that to do this you need the GNU (which is not gnuplot) version of the readline libraries. OK, I have that on this machine, so we try
$ ./configure --prefix=/home/local --with-readline==gnu
$ make install

And this works. Except that there is a bug in GNU readline. If you understand what that message said, don't tell me. Just note that the effect of the bug is that, if you call gnuplot from the command-line prompt from an xterm, have it put up a plot (say
gnuplot> plot x
and then resize the xterm, the gnuplot figure vanishes. Why? I have no clue. Anyway, you can get it back by using the
gnuplot> replot

Is gnuplot 4.0 better than 3.7? I don't know yet. But at least I've got it working.

This quote seems appropriate

Over the past few years we've had quite a few lawsuits which are directly or indirectly to the transition from analog (pen, paper, albums, tapes) to digital data storage and retrieval. You know what they are, so I'm not going to post links. But they do bring to mind this quote from the story "Life-Line", by Robert Heinlein, from 1939:

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law.

Monday, May 24, 2004

New Element Discovered

APS News reports the discovery of a new element, one that has strange properties never before seen by physicists. The discovery itself sounds quite exciting. Perhaps someone could make a movie about it, or even a series.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Do you believe in productive outs? Baseball management doesn't

One of the findings of Sabermetrics is that offensive production is mainly controlled by on-base percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (SLG). But to baseball teams really organize themselves this way? After all, this year we've been hearing about productive outs, and how it's sometimes better to have a player that will give himself up for the club rather than one who will get on base. If baseball teams really believed that, then you shouldn't see a correlation between OBP, SLG, and the defensive spectrum. If, however, baseball management really believes that OBP and SLG are important, then you'd expect players on the left-hand side of the spectrum to have higher values.

I did a brief study to see what baseball management really believes. Basically, I looked at the production of players in different parts of the defensive spectrum. The idea is, baseball will get the best hitters available, provided they aren't bad fielders for their positions.

You know what? Baseball values the hitters who can get on base and get extra-base hits. If you can only ground out to first, you'd better be a good fielder, otherwise you're not going to play. Thus, it seems, baseball management doesn't really believe the productive outs are all that productive.


We're nearing the peak of the latest version of Brood X, Magicicada septendecim. At least, I hope we are.

It's loud out there folks. How loud? Well, yesterday I was mowing the back forty with my trusty Sears Self-Propelled (with the broken propulsion), and I could hear the cicadas over the sound of the lawn mower. True, the cicadas were pitched above the mower, but still.

American readers understand how loud that is. For others, who've never pushed a lawn mower, let's just say that a good 20-22 inch cut four-cycle engine is only slightly less loud then the group Megadeath from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We're talking loud here. (A good muffler would add too much weight, it's a push mower, after all.)

In addition, the males are getting increasingly desperate, staying out late a bars, and getting home at 2-3 am. As a result, the singing is going on all night. At a reduced level, of course. Your average cicada is a nice, gentle fellow, who goes to bed when the sun goes down, and gets up when the sun does. Here that means about 5:50 EDT. So the noise is starting really early.

The end is in sight, however. Earlier in the week the front sidewalk would get 100-200 cicada shells a day. Today we've only got 40-50. So it would appear that most of the boys and girls have awakened, and are now beginning their "adult" lives.

It's interesting, I'll say that, and it's fun in many ways. But boy, is it loud out there.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

From Our People With Too Much Time On Their Hands Department

Japanese version ( via Slashdot):

But where's the fanfare? (Go to
search for fanfare
-- Yahoo doesn't like direct links.)

Sunday, May 16, 2004

That Personal Touch

Favicons are those little pictures that show up on the location and tab bar of your browser, that little icon which identifies the site. There's a favicon list here if you want to see some of the more commercial ones.

On my own pages I use a script M, which shows up in Firefox's icon bar but not in the location bar, where they put the Comcast C.

I wanted to personalize this blog with the script M favicon, but Blog*spot, Blogger's free hosting site, doesn't store pictures. So I tried an experiment. I went to Blogger and edited the template for this site. Just before the </head> command I put in the lines

<!-- Add favicon, I hope -->
<link rel="shortcut icon" href="" type="image/x-icon" />

which calls up the icon from my home web page. And it works. Better than on Comcast, as the script M shows up in the location bar as well as the tab bar.

Who Wants to Make a Few Million Dollars

of illegally obtained funds?

I just got one of those email letters telling me of the said state of the sender, whose father/brother/partner's ill-gotten gains are going to be confiscated by the evil government if I don't help him transfer money from his country to my bank account -- and oh, could you please send me a few thousand dollars to help along the process.

If you haven't gotten one of these yet, you will. This was the first one I got on my account (non-cousin Nathan's email server thoughtfully marked it as spam), but I have an older-than-spam email account, and it gets these daily. If you don't know the style of the letter, or are tempted to take some of the money that has been sitting in the account of a deceased oil executive since 1980, go to the Nigeria 419 Coalition Website and read up on it.

Then (if you're in the US, and if you haven't sent in any money), send the email to the U.S. Secret Service at They won't stop this spam from entering your mailbox, but they will keep the letter on file as they build their database on the scammers.

If you have sent money to these people, check out the second paragraph of the Secret Service site mentioned above.

Writing a Thesis Was Nothing Like This

Yeah, sure it wasn't. Anyway, if you're in graduate school, and of a certain age, you need to write your thesis. Well, actually, you want to stay in school forever, but they will throw you out some time in the future. Might as well have the paper that says you were there, which means you have to write a thesis. How to do it? Do what anyone does these days: go to the Internet. No, don't buy a thesis, it might be your advisor's, and that would by embarrassing. Just go to

and follow the directions therein.

And They Have Big Red Eyes and They Crunch When You Step on Them

In case you haven't heard, those of us on the Right Coast, (upper half) are being invaded by Brood X. No, not Gen X, Brood X, the every seventeen year infestation of Cicadas, Magicicada septendecim. (Yeah, and they're ugly, too.)

The noise is starting. It's a kind of high-pitch buzz. It's somewhat ominous, because you can't locate the sound. It's coming from all the trees in the neighborhood. If your ears can pick out a direction, the loudest sound is towards the biggest stand of trees around. Seventeen years ago, when we lived in the townhouse, the sound was from the remnants of the Great Bowie Forrest, which hadn't been torn down yet. It was a wall of white noise. This time, we live in a forest. So far the sound isn't as loud as I remember in '87, but it just started yesterday, so we'll give it time.

We've got Cicadas/Cicada shells on our back porch. We've got them on the wall of the house. We've got them on the sidewalk. Since we parked the cars outside last night I'm sure we've got them on the cars. And in a few days, if everything goes well for them, we'll have sex-crazed Cicadas flying (sort of, they don't get much practice) flying through the air, bumping into people, and driving cats and dogs crazy.

On the bright side, I've heard they are quite tasty.

For more on Cicadas, see the Cicada Mania site.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

OK fixed it

Comments can now be made to all of these posts. Be the first on your block to make scintillating remarks. Heck, be the first person to let me know you read this thing. Just click on the "0 comments" link below this post. Or any post, what the heck.

Comments can be made

but you have to do it by clicking the "#" sign at the bottom of this message. I haven't figured out how to get the comment link included on this page, yet. Maybe someone from Blogger support will come along and help me out.

Hugo Award Nominees --2004

Every year the World Science Fiction convention gives out the Hugo Awards for the year's best science fiction (in English). This year's nominees are out. It looks as though all of the "short" (less than novel) length stories are available online through that link.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Internet Weather

I got this from Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manner website. I'm sorry, I can't find the link to the original article. (If Chaos Manner has an RSS feed, or an index, I haven't found it yet.)

It's an Internet Weather Bug, which tells you how the Internet is behaving at the moment. Apparently when there is some virus out in the wild it will change colors. I'm going to try posting this on the sidebar to the right, we'll see how it works.

OK, it looks better at the top, so that's where it will stay for now.

What's Wrong With You People?

According to news reports, over 250 million Americans failed to watch the Friends finale. What's up with that? Who wouldn't want to know what happened to whosit, whatchamacallit, him, her, thatone, and whatshername? This is a national outrage! NBC put down good money so that everyone in the known universe would watch the final episode of Friends. Get with the program, people, you only have one more chance to see it-- then it's going straight to syndication, and you won't be able to see Friends more than 10-20 times a day.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

This Time She'll Let Me Kick the Ball!!!

In other baseball news, the DC baseball commission made its annual pitch for baseball in Washington to the Expos relocation committee. Hope springs eternal, but I suspect that there won't be baseball on the Potomac as long as Peter Angelos has anything to do with it. We go through the same thing every year:

"We'll decide by the All-Star Game"

"Oh, thank you, thank you great almighty Sirs, we will build the finest stadium the land has ever seen -- a stadium with a veritable plethora of skyboxes, and a few seats for real fans. It will make money hand over fist from all those corporations who can't afford Redskin's Sky Boxes."

"Whoops!! We have to look at Norfolk, Portland, and Las Vegas. In detail. Wait until next year."

"Aaagh!!! She pulled the ball away again!!"

With Great Power Comes Great Marketability

OK, baseball backed down. Spiderman Logos will not appear on a diamond near you. [] Logos will, however, appear in the on-deck circles, and possibly on Bud Selig's head. []

The rest of the article is interesting: a movie-branded "ceremonial pitching rubber and home plate", to be replaced before the game starts. Baseball gets a whole $2.5 million for the deal, which will buy the Expos a mid-range infielder. If you're going to sell your soul, shouldn't you get more in return than Mark Loretta?

Saturday, May 01, 2004

This is just very wierd

so I'll just post the clip as Slashdot presented it:

| Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water                              |
|   from the accurate-enough dept.                                   |
|   posted by michael on Friday April 30, @16:10 (scifi)             |
|   ""            |

darthcamaro writes "Earthlings Ugly Bags of Mostly Water is the name of a new documentary film - starring Worf (aka Michael Dorn) about Klingon language and culture. They've got a [0]weird website too. 'Earthlings:Ugly Bags of Mostly Water' captures the lives, passions and quirks of the members of the Klingon Language Institute during their annual qep'a' (conference). The film's producers issued a [1]press release about it today with some interesting quotes... 'The perspective of Michael Dorn, the world's most recognized Klingon, provides both serious and comedic elements to the project,' said Earthlings Director Alexandre Philippe. 'This is a man who embodies all the elements of a Klingon warrior: honor, respect, ferocity. For years, Klingon fans have looked to the Worf character for their education in Klingon culture.' Quaplah! /.

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