Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Someone has invented a wall outlet where each socket rotates. It seems a little bit late to the game, now that most wall warts are better designed.
It got me thinking, though, about the mess I have under my feet as I type this. I have a couple of laptops, a few external disk drives, and a few devices plugged into a USB hub. Guess what? Every one of them has its own AC to DC converter!
The iGo is a product that reduces the problem for a couple of devices, but wouldn't it be nice to have nice, safe DC throughout the house; or, for travelers, throughout the hotel room? Bring DC out to every outlet, just like they did in Manhatten, back when Edison first turned on the Pearl Street generating station in 1883.
Just because it's more efficient to haul AC long distances, why do we have to have a transformer for every transistorized appliance we own? Those things are plugged in and buzzing away whether we're using them or not!
Imagine the benefits of having DC throughout the house. Why can't we bring AC in from the street into a big iGo-like device, and wire that to all our outlets?
That's what I would consider an innovative wallplate.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
I just found a new way to edit documents. I'm using it to write this blog entry.
The only thing that's annoying me while I write this is that it doesn't provide a way to style paragraphs.
For example, I should be able to just press "enter" and have it provide some vertical space, or maybe even indent the first line of each paragraph. That's something that Word has been able to do for the past decade. I suppose I could go into the HTML editor and add some Cascading Style Sheet declarations, but that's a bit extreme for something that claims to be able to edit documents from Word.
I just discovered that the blog-entry preview adds the missing vertical spacing. I wish I could edit in that mode!
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Was "Hell" Made Up to Scare Us?
Sometime last year I found a web site that discussed where the concept of Hell came from, and whether or not it's consistent with what is actually written in the original languages of the Old and New Testament. I'm still not done analyzing the results, but I thought I'd share, and open up the discussion to those who read my blog. I'm not saying what my own beliefs are, I'm only reporting what I've found.
It appears that translation issues have given us the Hell we know today. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, around 300 BCE, Sheol got translated into Hadees. These two concepts may have something in common, but they don't seem to be exactly the same. In any case, neither word denotes post-mortem retributive suffering; these words mean the state of being dead. 
If you look at the table found here, you will find that only very recent translations of the King James Version of the Bible use Hell in the Old Testament. That table also shows that only 12 out of 38 English translations of the New Testament even use the word.
So what's going on? Where did this idea of eternal torment come from? Did the Romans invent it to scare people into conversion? Are there errors in the materials I referenced below?
My mother is a Bible-thumping religion nut. I once told her that if she really wanted to know the truth, she should learn the languages of the Bible and read the original texts. That made her mad, but I'm pretty sure I was right.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Monday, February 20, 2006
I just found a snapshot of a new Windows Longhorn screen. Is this one of those ugly skins I would never choose for Windows XP? These guys have absolutely zero aesthetic sense.
I wish I could buy MacOS X for my PCs. After seeing the latest version on my brother's machine, I know it's easy and fun to use.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Are you having issues with spam? I'm not!
Back on February 1st I mentioned my email server. Since then I've gotten a couple of inquiries into why I have one, and how it helps eliminate spam.
The reason I have one is that I like to read my email from several PCs, including PCs at other peoples' houses, without entrusting all my email to potentially snoopy providers, such as Gmail or my ISP, and having to use a web client.
The reason I can't move between machines easily is because the popular email clients' Bayesian spam filters only work on one machine. Each machine's client learns to filter a different subset of spam message types, so no one machine can do a very good job.
Because I have my own email server, I run a Bayesian filter on it, and my wife and I both train it as necessary. That server lets each of us use whatever email client we want (as long as it uses non-proprietary protocols), on any computer we want, while still having the spam consistently removed from our inboxes. When the filter finds a spammy message for my wife or me, it puts it into a personal "Likely Spam" folder.
The "Likely Spam" folder takes no effort to patrol. I can't remember ever seeing a legitimate email message in that folder, but I still check it, just in case. For this folder I also use my email client's Bayesian filter, and because it's a different implementation that I train less often, it marks the really really spammy messages with a little trash icon. I just delete those messages from the "Likely Spam" folder without looking at them very hard. Then I scan the names and subjects of the remaining messages, potentially rescue any that aren't really spam, mark the rest as spam to train my local email client, then delete them for good. It sounds harder than it is. I can almost do all this in a few keystrokes.
My wife and I both train the shared spam filter with the newest stupid spamming tricks. When the server's filter lets a spam message through, we just drag it into our personal "Training for Spam" folder. That's all there is to it.
Although my wife and I each have a "Training for Ham" folder, we almost never have to use it. On the rare occasion we do find a message that's not really spam, we copy it into our "Training for Ham" folder.
The server's spam filter periodically checks each person's training folders, and trains itself with the messages it finds.
Each week I still see a few spam messages sneak through, but I think I know how to increase the detection another order of magnitude without changing the user experience at all. In addition to the Bayesian filter called "SpamProbe", I plan to install "SpamAssassin", which uses entirely different techniques, such as looking up the sender's domain name to see if it's in a "black list". I'm expecting the combination of the two filters to add a few more nines to the percentage of spam messages filtered.
I'm thinking about making a little network appliance with all of this software preinstalled on a small-form-factor hard drive. Do you think you would want to test one? Do you think you would buy one if it were cheap enough?
Friday, February 17, 2006
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The ultimate Google command list
read more | digg story
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Best PC game I've played in a while... and it's free!
read more | digg story
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Over on a blog of trilobate origins, I was just reading about how to rasterbate. My brother will appreciate this because it's good for enlarging certain things. No, it's not porn. Go see for yourself.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
More on Firefox Extensions
As promised, this is my followup on the Extend Firefox Contest Finalists. I downloaded a bunch of them and gave them a whirl.
Most of them are installed, but they disappeared into the Firefox woodwork, as it were. The only one I really found interesting was called Reveal.
I like it, it's very well done, and it seems relatively bug free. I just can't think of a situation where I would ever use it.
The killer feature for me is still tabbed browsing. I just need to find the extension that puts the close-window widget on the tab, and I'm happy.
My Thoughts on Perl
A few weeks ago I spent some time learning the new things that were added to the Perl language in the past ten years or so. Perl was a great language back then, especially for text manipulations. There's one new feature that irritates me, though.
The authors claim that Perl is object oriented.
Perl is barely more object oriented than the C language. I used to write my C code to use object-oriented techniques, but it was a real chore. Perl object-orientation is a chore, too.
The whole point to an object-oriented language is to let the language do these chores for you, giving you more time to focus on solving problems. No wonder there are still so many anti-OO people out there. In the wrong language, OO is just more work!
Back in 2000, a few of us started a company and accepted VC money to build a product. The VCs pushed us to hire anyone who could breath so we could build a product as quickly as possible, make a couple of sales, and go public with the company so they could profit. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.
When all the VC money ran out, I think we had spent around $24 million dollars to build a product for which, suddenly, no telecom company could afford to buy a license. We couldn't get a second round of funding out of any VC firm because the Internet Bubble, pumped up with the air from worthless dot coms, had popped.
I'm involved in a project now that is based on open source. Some call it open sores. What's ironic is that the open source software provides for free a significant portion of the product we wanted to sell back in 2001. It's called Eclipse.
Eclipse is not just a Java IDE, it's an environment that pulls together OMG standards, such as UML, MOF, and XMI; gives you a crank to turn that spits out Java code with semantics that match the UML model; and gives you a basic editor that allows you to populate your generated code with instances. Our product did more than that, but if the latest Eclipse version had been around back in 2000, we probably would have been able to make a few sales and take our company public before the Internet Bubble burst.
Bummer. We were in the right place at the wrong time.
I was trying to tell my brother how he could see my blog feed and his gmail inbox on one screen, but I couldn't get Google to cooperate for some reason. Then I went to Jordo Media, added my blog to their list, searched for my own entry, and found a page that lets you add my feed to Yahoo, Google, and MSN. I just clicked on the "add to Google" button, and it bypassed all the earlier issues I had!
While I was at it, I used their HTML for the left side of my blog.
Please rate my blog at this Jordo site by clicking here.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Do you use Firefox? You may want to check out the extension contest finalists to make sure you've tried the cream of the crop.
I'll report back after I try a couple of them.
Yesterday I discovered that an item in my Amazon Wishlist is downloadable for free. How cool is that?
So far it's an interesting read. Here's the synopsis:
Imagine that you meet a very old man who—you eventually realize—knows literally everything. Imagine that he explains for you the great mysteries of life—quantum physics, evolution, God, gravity, light, psychic phenomenon, and probability—in a way so simple, so novel, and so compelling that it all fits together and makes perfect sense. What does it feel like to suddenly understand everything? God's Debris isn’t the final answer to the Big Questions. But it might be the most compelling vision of reality you will ever read. The thought experiment is this: Try to figure out what’s wrong with the old man’s explanation of reality. Share the book with your smart friends then discuss it later while enjoying a beverage.
Why not download it yourself?
My Site Meter
I've been watching my site meter for a few days now. It tells me how people are navigating to my blog, how long they stay, and what geographical region they're from. I was obsessing over it on Saturday, but now I've calmed down a little.
Well, okay, my blog traffic has calmed down a little, which makes the site meter a bit like watching grass grow.
Come on, people, leave me a comment! Just a little crumb. I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing!
Oh wait, that's my breathing. Nevermind.
Wow, it really is quiet in here!
Saturday, February 04, 2006
I'm finding I have an issue with people who can't behave as they promise. Sure there are always going to be unavoidable instances, such as your spouse turning out to be a mass murderer, but it just pisses me off when people find reasons not to uphold their promises.
I attended someone's second wedding today, and I was cringing while, for a second time, the groom swore to God that he would do all kinds of wonderful things until death separates him from his wife. It made me think of an article I read, called Take Two Truths And Call Me In the Morning. From the article:
We are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. We are what we do. Conversely, in judging other people we need to pay attention not to what they promise but how they behave. . . . We are drowning in words, many of which turn out to be the lies we tell ourselves or others.
I heard once that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Will this time be different? Only time will tell.
There seem to be three kinds of people. There are those who would never talk on their cell phones while they're in the restroom ; there are those who boldly take a dump, flush the toilet, and wash their hands while talking on the cell phone; then there are those who lie about it.
From the linked posting:
"What? Yes. No. No, its just someone trying really hard to push rocks into a swimming pool. Honestly. Big ones. Now about that lunch date..."
Which kind are you, and why?
Friday, February 03, 2006
Verizon Card Strangeness
It seems Verizon doesn't have coverage everywhere, even when there is a strong 3G signal. I'm sitting at my in-laws with 4 bars of signal, but it's complaining about my username and password. I don't even have a way to enter a username and password!
This started happening when I was about 30 to 45 minutes away from their house. At least my in-laws have broadband!
The acronym is something you can append to any sentence, like you append "in bed" to the text of a fortune cookie. But of course there are obvious exceptions.
I'm posting this while my wife drives us to my inlaws for a wedding, and I haven't gotten dropped in over 30 minutes of usage! This is cool, and very usable!
Long trips aren't what they were when I was a kid.
Any Good HDTV Monitor Reviews?
Opening the Sluices
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Wow! Now I'll never have to brush my teeth ever again!
Hhhhhiii Mary Jane, care to accompany me to the local cinimahhhh?
Mmm! Squinty fresh breath!
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Cool stuff! From the article:
The choice for the four regions [within a picture] is arbitrary, but the user will pick places that he or she finds easy to remember. The user can introduce his/her own pictures for creating graphical passwords. Also, for stronger security, more than four click points could be chosen.
It gets more complicated than that, but it gives you the gist of it.
Mad as a Hatter
Everyone should have this a priori knowledge because it's bound to happen. My wife had an unused flourescent bulb in our pantry, just sitting there on a shelf. Somehow she pulled it off the shelf and shattered it.
I got mad that she hadn't heeded my warnings to at least put them into a ziplock bag.
I knew that these things contain mercury vapor, and having read about the dangers of Dimethyl Mercury, I got a little panicky. (Mmmm, fish anyone?) I evacuated everyone from the kitchen and opened a window, then I started Googling around for what to do about it. Here's what I found:
There seems to be a discrepancy between the vendors and the scientists. I can't imagine why. :-)
Mänti Python Redux
I just realized that Mänti is based on on a language that may be related to my diluted Lithuanian ancestry. Coincidence?
The vocabulary of his language - "Mänti", meaning a type of tree - reflects the relationships between different things.I mostly think in abstract concepts that are completely separate from their labels. Since my thoughts are mostly about insights into how disparate things are connected, that makes it a real drag to have to put my disembodied thoughts into words. (This blog is kind of a way to practice converting abstractions into words.)
Words are an arbitrary afterthought that have nothing to do with what I'm thinking. When I try to explain what I'm thinking, I have to devote a lot of mental energy to negotiating a vocabulary with the right semantics I can use with a particular person. I know that challenge makes me seem like an idiot to some people, and that's really frustrating. (Okay, in some ways I am an idiot, but bear with me.)
I wonder if this language would provide me with a pivot point from abstractions to far more concrete English. I might be the only person in the world who bothers to learn it, but it might be a really big help. If only he'd publish it! Does anyone know how to contact him?
Since I've set up shop in the space that some architect designated as a formal living room, I needed a television. Rather than buy a new TV while all the HDTV prices are dropping rapidly, I decided to buy a Hauppauge USB2 TV tuner and connect it to my laptop.
This device is awesome. I've never had a problem of any kind with it. The software that comes with it sucks, though.
I evaluated a bunch of software that records TV shows to my disk drive and decided to buy SnapStream's BeyondTV.
My setup was working very well, but Cox only gives me a few of my favorite channels in the normal analog cable range that the Hauppage can tune into, so I relocated my cable box from the bedroom. That worked well, too, but then BeyondTV couldn't change channels to record shows.
There are a couple of products out there that will blast infrared at the cable box to change the channels. The one I decided to buy was MyBlaster. It installed easily and worked well. Until I rebooted my laptop, that is.
I told that story on the SnapStream forum, so there's no need to type any more about that, except to say that I finally got it working very well.
New Email Server
I burned lots of time on moving my old email server from a very old distribution of RedHat Linux on a very old 386 to an iMac running MacOS 10.2. That worked great for a while, until the disk controller stopped working. At least I had a backup, but that thing stayed broken for at least a month.
I bought an external FireWire drive to get it back again, but for a bunch of reasons, I just couldn't get it working again and I didn't want to burn any more time compiling and configuring source code for an unsupported version of MacOS. Then it dawned on me that I had a faster machine with a built-in battery backup that could run the latest distribution of Debian Linux. I didn't think of it earlier because its backlight burned out a long time ago.
The thing that's cool about working with a modern version of Linux is that the packages install like a hot knife through butter. I had that thing up and running in just a few hours.
LDAP-Based Email Filters
I put all my address book entries into my LDAP server, and now I can access it from anywhere, including other peoples' houses. That's all most people would use it for, but I took it further in a novel direction.
I wrote a little program that uses my schema extensions to the the LDAP directory to determine into which of many mail folders to deliver each incoming message. It does this with sender filters and recipient filters.
The coolest thing is that the sender filter can reference one or more of the existing address books! So, for example, I can tell it to look in my "Family" address book and deliver messages from any of those people into a folder called "Family". I use that pattern for "Extended Family" and "Friends", too. I can also use fragments of email addresses, such that I can match on someone's unique user ID from any domain name or match on anyone at some domain name. And that's not all!
I can also match on recipient email addresses, which allows me to contextually file away messages that might otherwise go into only one mail folder. For example, I can match on addresses that I only see when my son's den leader announces the next den meeting so that those messages go into my "Scouts" folder, yet still have email from him go into my "Friends" folder when he's not talking about Cub Scouts. And that's still not all!
Each user can have a list of notification mechanisms that are restricted by the hour of the day. That allows me to send a notification to my cell phone whenever an email is delivered into an important mailbox, but only during reasonable hours. That keeps my cell phone from incessantly beeping throughout the night when an important newsflash tells me about some wicked Osama deed while I'm in bed.
My intention is to package up this software and make it publicly available for other people to use and improve. Hopefully other people will find it interesting enough to use it, add features to it, and fix bugs they find. I have an idea for a commercial product that I might describe in my next blog entry.
What do you think? I welcome you to use the link below to post a comment. I'll get an email message telling me that someone's out there!