Friday, December 31, 2004

Better Linux Realplayer

As noted previously, in certain cases RealPlayer launches quite a few windows, only one of which works.

After upgrading to RealPlayer 10.0.2, rebooting, restarting Firefox, etc., now RealPlayer works perfectly as a plugin for the NOVA site mentioned in the link above.

The Day Before -- The Day After

A company called DigitalGlobe has a set of before and after satellite pictures from the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

The Washington Post also has some before and after pictures, as well as pictures of the human side of the catastrophe. (Click on "Photo Gallery" or "Satellite Images" in the box on the right-hand-side of the screen. Note all the mud that has been dragged miles inland.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Elegant Universe -- Online

I've mentioned Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, a popularization of string theory, before. You may know that it was made into a three-part series for NOVA. Today, thank's to a Slashdot discussion of the centenial of Einstein's 1905 papers I found that PBS has put the series on line. Each of the three parts comes in 8 chapters, available in QuickTime or RealPlayer format:

If you try the RealPlayer option in Linux, it will work, but I get 5-6 copies of the player. One of them has the program, the others can be deleted. I couldn't get mplayer, xine, or totem to play the QuickTime version.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Playing MIDI files

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a standard for transmit information between electronic musical instruments, including your computer. On the Web, MIDI seems to be used mainly to play cheesy background music on certain web sites. Being a glutton for punishment, I installed the Open Source programTiMidity++ to play these files under Linux.

Mozplug has links to timidity in the standard /etc/mozpluggerrc file, but to get Firefox to find the plugin I had to delete the ~/.mozilla/firefox/pluginreg.dat file.

I'd test this setup on the Plugger Testing Ground, but the page has been corrupted. I'll check back in a day or so.

Minutes later:: Found a MIDI Sample Page, which works.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

We call it "The Greatest Story Ever Told," God's fulfilment of his promise of salvation. And for over 1900 years, Christians have told its beginning in this way:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke, 2:1-20

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


The big news today of course, is the announcement that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be released on July 16.

Feeling Much Better Now

Yesterday was the first anniversary of this blog. I was going to post statistics, reactions (minimal), a little bit about the evolution of the blog, etc.

Last week, around Thursday, the government decided that there was enough flu vaccine, and recommended that everyone over 50 get a shot.

I've gotten a flu shot for at least the last 20 years, usually at work. In those twenty years I never got the flu. In fact, I never had the flu.

OK, I thought, Monday I'll go to my doctor and get a flu shot. I'm entitled, after all.

Friday night, as I was driving home, I got the sniffles.

Saturday I had a general, undefined ache all over, though I was able to do a four mile walk, which did clear my head.

Saturday night I was warm enough that I didn't need blankets. By morning I had a fever of about 101.5F.

Sunday afternoon I topped out at 102.6. Fortunately there were some good football games on.

Since Sunday I've been cycling between 99 and 102, roughly. When it gets above 101 I take Tylenol.

I'm coughing my head off, as my sinuses have all sorts of junk. I'm not particularly sore anymore, but I get tired very easily. This afternoon I had to lie down after watching four straight hours of Deep Space 9 and TNG. OK, I chased down a couple of rabbits, too.

So if you're wondering why I know I never had the flu before, it's because now I know what the flu is. Everything else is a cheap imitation. I had mono almost 30 years ago, and it wiped me out for months, but I don't remember it being this intense at any given time.

As God is my Witness, I will never skip a flu shot again. Those who run the programs might think about that come next election. You've blown it two years in a row, this year worse than last. Get with it, people.

Of some worry is that 86 years ago this month my Grandfather got influenza. The "Spanish Flu", as it was called. He died before the end of the year, leaving my Grandmother with six kids, the oldest ten years old. Now, I'm not a sufficiently large hypochondriac to think this is going to get me (though I'm close). But this strain isn't as virulent as the Spanish one was, and we've got antibiotics to clear up secondary infections. So I'll be around to post into the new year.

Posts might be rather spotty, though, as I recover.

All of you take care.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Star Wars Flash

Get your minds out of the gutter. I said "Flash", not "Slash". Anyway, two Star Wars animations set to music:

British Bad Science Awards

It's not that there is more bad science in Britain than in the US, it's that the British are able to laugh at it in the popular press, not just in the Annals of Improbable Research. From the Guardian,

The 2004 Bad Science Awards

Including shrinking water molecules, anesthetic-coated condoms, and Giant Irradiated Tomatoes.

Kerry Should Have Used This

Persistence in one opinion has never been considered a merit in political leaders.

-- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares", 1st century BC

(Watch, that will probably turn out to be a fake quotation.)

Things You Can Buy on eBay

Though he isn't happy about it.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Happy Solstice

Everyone's favorite phone caller, Bill O'Reilly, has an article called Take Your Christmas and Stuff It. Basically, evil secularists are taking over Christmas, banning the religious aspects, and turning us all into secular humanists.

Bunk. The secular aspects of Christmas predate the religious ones by centuries, if not millenia.

3-400 years ago, or so, what we'd now call the leading Conservatives (based on Church of England and Lutheran norms they were raving radicals, but what the heck), aka the Puritans (and some Presbyterians and other Calvinists), didn't celebrate Christmas. Why? BECAUSE THEY KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!!! Christmas is, and always has been, an invitation to party. And I don't mean just sitting around over a week glass of wine and a stuffed turkey.

The Church (Orthodox and Catholic) didn't pick December 25 as the day to celebrate Christ's birth because of any evidence that He was born then. They picked the day because that was during the time of Saturnalia, the Roman pagan festival. And what did people do during this festival, which lasted a week or so, you may ask? The generally debauched. There were some minor religious celebrations, but mostly they did the Party Hardy bit. There was even one day when slaves were allowed to boss their masters. (Sort of like a day when the Republicans let the Democrats win something in Congress, but this actually happened once a year.) I suppose you could put a statue of Zeus in the local parade, but I'm also sure that most people didn't care one way or another.

Oh, and outside of Rome, up in Germany and further north, trees that stayed green all year were special. Especially during the Winter Solstice. I.e., "Holiday Trees" predate "Christmas Trees" by centuries.

The Church took all this over, toned down the celebrations, and put Epiphany 12 days after Christmas, giving rise to a two-week celebratory season (take that, pagans), as well as millions of partridges in pear trees over the centuries (but that started much later). Germans began to regard the tree as a symbol of Christianity. (Mistletoe and Holly are still popular, though.)

So Christmas started out as a secular holiday. It's celebrated at a time when most pagans, European ones at least, celebrated a wild secular holiday. Why do we expect it to be anything else? Of the "90% of Americans [who] celebrate the Federal holiday of Christmas," how many actually go to church that day? On Christmas Eve? What's the percentage of them for which this is the only day of church in the year?

The most important day on the Christian calendar isn't Christmas, by the way. It's Easter. Tied to a time of year mentioned in the Bible. Celebrated since the 2nd century AD. Where people don't go wassailing, give big gifts (mostly), or try to score with the secretary in accounting during the office party. I'm pretty sure that 90% of Americans DON'T celebrate Easter, but I'm certain that 100% of Christians do.

Even the Puritans.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Big Cash System

So many things to blog about, so little time. Well, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has the distinct advantage that all the players are settled, but we have almost a month before the actual event. So let's talk about what went wrong and why.

The BCS is supposed to give us the two best Division I college football teams fighting for the National Championship. Instead, it gives us pretty good teams fighting for the Championship, and leaves everyone else outside looking in. Sometimes this works. But not often (numbers in parenthesis indicate pre-championship game record):

Season Bowl Winner Loser Controversy
1998 Fiesta Tennessee (12-0) 23 Florida State (11-1) 16  
1999 Sugar Florida State (11-0) 46 Virginia Tech (11-0) 29 
2000 Orange Oklahoma (12-0) 13 Florida State (11-1) 2 FSU beaten by Miami (10-1) during season
2001 Rose Miami (11-0) 37 Nebraska (11-1) 14Nebraska lost to Colorado (10-2) in final game of regular season. Colorado was Big 12 champion.
2002 Fiesta Ohio State (13-0) 31 Miami (12-0) 24 (2 OT)Actually, this was the best BCS championship game
2003 Sugar LSU (12-1) 21 Oklahoma (12-1) 14 Oklahoma lost Big 12 Championship Game to Kansas State. USC (11-1) left out in cold, though ranked above OSU in the polls.

(Thanks to and for the preceding data.)

This year, it's worse. There are not one, not two, not three, but five, count'em, five teams with perfect records: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, and Boise State. Six if you count Harvard, who graciously declined to play in a bowl game. So many undefeated teams that Boise State doesn't even get to play in a "BCS" auxillary bowl -- heaven forbid, it's bad enough that Utah is in one.

In the past, the BCS has used the excuse "we'll get it right next year." They tweak the system. Conference champions get screwed? We'll give them a point. Oh, but then strenght of schedule isn't taken into account. No, wait, we're depending on the computers too much. No matter, the next fix would work.

And then the nightmare happened -- not only did a non-BCS interloper (Utah) make it into the sacred bowls, but one of the "real" BCS teams was denied entry into the Championship game even though it had a perfect record -- because there were three perfect teams.

I believe the next fix is going to be addition of an extra bowl game, one held between the "best" two winners of the traditional BCS bowls. That won't work, either, for the simple reason that the Utahs and the Boise States are getting good. They get nearly as much TV exposure as the BCS teams (quick: who plays on a blue field?), and they're getting the players. One day, soon, a non-BCS school will have a plausible argument to being the best team in the country, and it's going to get shut out of the championship game.

The solution, of course, is a playoff, as every other NCAA division has for football. An 8 team playoff (which quite probably would have included California over Texas) would have been OK, but a 16 team playoff is better. This year we could have had the games start last week, the Elite Eight tomorrow, the Final Four next week, skip Christmas, and have the Championship on New Year's Day.

It won't happen of course. One reason is the difference between money in hand and money which can be made. The money in hand comes from the 28 bowl games. This year, unless it is too disfunctional (e.g. Clemson and South Carolina), just about any team with a winning season got into a bowl. That's a lot of money. (If you think it's not about money, note this just in: the NCAA is "considering" making 12 games a year the standard, every year.)

Of course, a real championship would make even more money, just as the basketball tournament makes a ton more than a set of Big 12/Big 10(11) -- Pac 12/SEC -- ACC/Big East tournaments would make. But that money is in the future, so it's hard to see.

And, of course, there is an issue with (gasp) finals. Many commentators like to make fun of this. It's true that every other Division has football championships and finals, and it's also true that many Div-IA players aren't at school to make grades. But last year the last championship was on Dec. 19, a week before Christmas. There's only one (1) game on the whole Div.IAA schedule during the two weeks before Christmas: prime finals time.

Anyone think the Big Guys want to wrap up the season on Dec. 18? Of course not. First, the big bowl games have always been on Christmas, and with a 12 game schedule the season can't end before Thanksgiving. So any playoff will have to span the finals, or not start until around Christmas. Or, the colleges will have to admit that we're really looking at the NFL minor league and give the players a free pass through the finals. As long as we're supposedly in it for the education the NCAA is going to have a problem with finals and Division IA football. While the hypocrisy goes on there will be no IA playoff.

But waiting in the wings: one of these years, Utah and Boise State, or their counterparts in the non-BCS Div.IA, will be the only undefeated teams in the nation. And not only will they not play for the championship, one of them will be left out of the best bowls.

And then the fur will fly.

This is Stargate. This is anime. This is Stargate on anime.

To be precise, this is a Fanfic crossover between Stargate SG-1 and Gundam Wing. An so, for your reading enjoyment, here is

Upon a Fiery Steed, by Vathara

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Here's a cute little Firefox Extension: ForecastFox, which queries the Weather Channel to find the current weather and forecast for your location, and then puts little icons on your browser's status bar (at the bottom), navagation bar (where you see the address of the current web page), toolbar (all the icons) or Personal Bookmarks (your favorite locations). Move the mouse over the icon to see the weather.


Seven score and a year ago

Technology affects how we receive information and how we distribute information. Consider, if you will, how one speach would have been presented today.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

So, Is Fedora Core For You?

A friend asked me what kind of Linux installation I would recommend for the novice user, which reminded me that I wanted to address the question:

Who Should Use Fedora Core?

As I think has become apparent to anyone reading this blog, Fedora Core 3 is not for the novice nor the faint-of-heart. The installation process isn't too bad, but the initial choice of software to install wasn't particularly useful for me. Then there is the outdated version of mplayer provided, a lack of certain fonts, sound turned down by default, and numerous other minor irritants. All of which can be fixed, but you have to know what you're doing (or read this blog). If you don't like tweaking, don't use FC3. If you like tweaking, however, but don't want to do the reportedly endless recompiling of Gentoo, and find Debian GNU/Linux too politically correct, then FC3 just might be for you.

What about for novices? I'd recommend Mandrake, from personal experience, but I've heard good things about Ubuntu and even Novell.

The best thing about Linux is that you have a lot of choices. Free-for-downloading choices. Don't like the current version of Linux? Rip it out, try another one.

Of course, the rip it out part of the last line will scare off some novices. Don't let it. Hold their hands, offer words of comfort, help them back up their home directories. And then tell them to try something new. After a few tries, they'll either:

  • Find a Linux distribution that makes them happy, and cease bothering you;
  • Learn how to install a Linux distribution, and cease bothering you; or
  • Go back to Windows, and cease bothering you.

Any of these is a pure win.

Does Anyone Need To See This?

If you're dying to see what Fedora Core 3 looks like, but you don't want to install it, then has just what you want: 111 screen shots of FC3, including Boot, Installation, Desktop, Taskbars, Menus, Configuration, Unique/New Features, and Forum Discussions.

Oh come on, does anyone need to see this? I mean, what is a bunch of screenshots going to tell you. If you want to see how FC3 performs, keep reading this blog.

Pecking Order

The funny thing about these pictures is that the black cat outweights the white cat by about five pounds, yet we never see the white cat groom the black cat. When they were kittens, the white one was bigger than the black one. Plus, he's always had a more aggressive personality (translation, the black cat is scared of his own shadow). So the pecking order established in childhood remains.

SciFiDaily: Holy Shat! Watch Shatner Sing and be Grateful

I wish I hadn't seen this. You should watch it as well.

SciFiDaily: Holy Shat! Watch Shatner Sing and be Grateful

New Refugee Issue

Forwarded by a woman I know, this shameful story of Canada's Treatment of Bush-Dodgers:


by Joe Blundo The Columbus Dispatch 11/16/04

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The re-election of President Bush is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

read on.