Saturday, September 29, 2007

Excel can't do math

If you put in just the right numbers, Microsoft Excel will give you a very wrong error.

850*77.1 should be 65,535 but instead you get 100,000.


Well, it only happens in some versions of Excel. But it sure is weird.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Using copyright for evil

Two stories from On the Media:

An astonishing power grab by record publishers. They want to be able to declare that you can't buy a CD, then sell it to someone else. Or give it to someone else. Imagine if you couldn't sell a used book. Or a used DVD.

They're not just saying you can't burn copies of a CD for your friends. They're saying you can't give the original. After destroying any copies you might have made.

They should lose their lawsuit. Because the consequences if they win are horrible. Libraries would be shut down, if they can't legally lend copies of books to people.
In the other story, about prisoners at Guantanamo being subjected to loud music, they report that a lawyer wants to sue the government for copyright infringement. The Army didn't get permission to play the songs from ASCAP/BMI, and certainly not from the artists. Rage Against the Machine has explicitly asked the government not to use its music to torture people.

I'm horrified to realize that some bands would be happy to have their music used to torture. But I do wonder where this novel legal theory would end. Does the state need to get permission from a rope manufacturer to use it to hang someone? (Not that I support capital punishment.) Does a tannery need to give permission for leather to be made into a holster?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On the Media rocks

On the Media has a great interview with the reporter who broke the story about our faulty memories.

You see, not only do we not remember negatives, but there are evil people in the world who use this to their advantage. If I want to spread a lie, whether it's "Saddam Hussein 9/11" or "Moon landing fake", you can't destroy my lie by saying I'm lying.
As I've seen many times at OMSI, if you repeat a message multiple times, it sticks. And people apparently can't remember the difference between hearing something from multiple sources, or hearing it multiple times from one liar.
The best way to destroy a lie/myth is to counter with an affirmative truth that ignores and negates the lie.
"9/11 was the sole work of Osama bin Laden" and "The US achieved a historic milestone by landing the first human being on the moon, Neil Armstrong". And then, you've got to repeat the truth incessantly, framing the question in a way that favors the truth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A moment of silence

Yes, Marcel Marceau, the best mime in the world, has died.

Here's video of him being loud.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Venezuelan Beaver Cheese

According to their tourism board, the Germans make many kinds of cheese. And all I could think of was Muenster. And when it was invented, Muenster was part of France.

Of course, Gouda isn't originally a German cheese, nor is Limburger. But Quark is an indescribable soft cheesy dairy product which I long to taste. Possibly because I've never tasted it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Switchgrass v. Corn

I have been persuaded in the past by the argument that corn-based fuels are not what we should power our cars with, because it takes lots of petroleum to power tractors and to create fertilizer and pesticides.

I've heard it argued that switchgrass and other plants could make ethanol much more efficiently than corn. And then I read about processing corn stalks and husks into ethanol. And I wonder if the equation shifts, when you turn garbage into fuel, versus turning food into fuel.

I don't really know that much science on the topic, just theory, which contradicts yesterday's post. But I know that fuel from something that grows back is better than non-renewable drilling. And that solar, wind, and tidal are also good.

Why can't we invent the Mr. Fusion? Sigh.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gun Control: Facts, not ideology

Many people in Oregon have recently articulated strong beliefs on why a teacher should or shouldn't be allowed to have a gun at work. While most of these theories are reasonable, I prefer to look at facts.

In Brazil, where gun control legislation was recently passed, violent crime went down. Other nations with gun control laws have fewer murders than countries like ours where guns are plentiful.

Whatever ideological excuse we need, our country would be safer if we had fewer guns. I don't really care if John McCain says the 2nd Amendment "is about freedom".

Which could make me a hypocrite, because I do care about my freedom of speech, and my freedom of religion, and my right to have a private email or phone call. And I don't support taking those freedoms away for safety.

But I fail to see the value of the freedom to bear arms. Maybe I'd feel differently in China, or under some other oppresive regime. But I don't think President Bush restrains himself because some citizens are armed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Which seal are we on? 6?

So, not only did Republicans filibuster habeas corpus, but it turns out the government is tracking what books you read. If they can find out, which is easy when they search your bags at the airport.

And as an indicator that maybe our economy isn't doing too well, in addition to the tyranny our government is perpetrating, our exchange rate with Canada is now One. Yes, US and Canadian money now have equal value. If only our governments had equal value. Well, I mean, if our government were as civilised and equitable and just as theirs. I don't want to drag Canada down with us.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thermite boom

This video shows thermite melting a car.

Well, first they claim to show that Thermite is more powerful than liquid nitrogen. But I'm not certain that they have equal amounts of both. If I had a tablespoon of thermite, and 10 gallons of liquid nitrogen, would the thermite still boil off all the nitrogen? I don't know, but quantity is part of the measure of power.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Artificial colors and preserva... hey let's go ride bikes!

A study a few weeks ago demonstrated, with good scientific controls (double-blind, placebo) that adding sodium benzoate, an ubiquitous preservative, and artificial colorings, can create hyperactivity in some children.

Wow. That's some good data. And it makes me wonder how much these ingredients are in our foods today, compared to the past. Because there's a lot more ADD diagnoses now than in the past.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wonderfalls is great

A coworker pointed me towards Wonderfalls, which is a great, unique piece of TV that showed briefly on Fox before they killed it, like every other good show they have. Well, I enjoy Family Guy and House. But Firefly deserved much better, and they sat on Wonderfalls for a year before airing 4 of the 13 episodes. And they're brilliant. Truly weird, original, and brilliant. I suppose a woman who works in a souvenir store at Niagara Falls and hears voices from souvenirs telling her to do things is hard to promote, but it seems like they didn't even try.

I haven't even watched past the 6th episode, but it's definitely fantastic stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2007

United 93 is excellent

I recently saw the movie United 93. It is an excellent movie.

It's a pretty tragic film, but very well made. Lots of foreshadowing, because you know what will happen, and how it will end. Lots of fantastic contrasts, showing various individuals at the same moment, and how their actions match, or oppose, the actions of others.

The director also directed the last two Bourne movies, and is very good. One of the weirdest parts of the movie is how it seems like a documentary. And one of the reasons is that many of the people involved play themselves in the movie. Truly fascinating.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

DM of the Rings

If you're a huge role playing game nerd, you might get the jokes in DM of the Rings.

It's a retelling of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, as if it's being played as a game. Not the best game, really. It reveals the folly of role playing games, which are fun to play, but probably really tiresome to watch/listen to. Which would support Mr. Ebert's claim that games can't be art, because the interactivity can derail the most well-crafted storyline.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Holy Crap

The moray eel, it turns out, is just like the alien in Alien.
It has a second jaw inside its mouth that helps it swallow prey.

Watch the video on the New York Times site. It's creepy. And awesome.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Left Brain, Right Brain?

A new study finds that liberal and conservative brains react differently to information.

This is heavily hyped in the story, to indicate flexibility in liberals and stubbornness in conservatives.

And then you find out that the difference is how accurate liberals are at telling apart the letters "M" and "W".

It seems a stretch to extrapolate that to complex decision making, or beliefs. Although, since evidence shows that different news sources lead to different levels of knowledge, there may be something there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We don't remember so well

It turns out that we don't remember stuff that well. Well, we remember in very particular ways. If something is repeated a bunch, we remember it. Except we don't remember negatives. Which leads to problems when websites have Myth Vs. Fact quizzes. We don't remember which one is true, and which one is false.

Which reminds me that getting your news from radio is better than TV. Doesn't surprise me at all. Radio is a verbal medium, one of thoughts. TV is a visual medium, one of emotions. In order, people know more facts if they use radio, then print, then TV. With one strong exception: The Daily Show/Colbert Report. What's up with that? Are our satirists better journalists? Or does their unvarnished honesty cut through the repeated messages of our politicians to the facts?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comcast. Big. Red. Evil.

So, not only does Comcast occasionally drop service, frustrating my mom, and annoying me, not only do they forge messages impersonating me to trick me into thinking the internet's broken and use less of it...

Now they also will shut me down if I go over the limit. Why is that evil? Because they won't tell me what the limit is. And they advertise it as unlimited. So I just hope my YouTube watching doesn't trigger their arbitrary limits.

Best of all, in Portland the only alternative to evil Comcast is incompetent, evil Qwest. Free market, my butt! We should do as the Canadians do and regulate internet as a utility. We already have the monopoly structure, we just need some fairness.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Is any TV art?

In thinking about whether video games can be art, I have a question. Has any TV been art? Another question: has there been any TV show which will be timeless - still relevant and worth watching decades from now? The TV equivalent of 12 Angry Men, or the 7th Seal, or even The Philadelphia Story?

I suspect Six Feet Under may qualify, and possibly Seinfeld and I Love Lucy. And in television you can tell stories of a novelic scope, where multiple characters develop over multiple arcs over years, instead of a single character arc that a movie or short story can tell.

Are my predictions right? Do you have other suggestions? Ah, if only I had more than 2 readers.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I'm not the only one blogging at work

Apparently, most people spend some time playing games at work. Not surprisingly, the higher you are in management, the more time you're likely to spend goofing off during the day.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Stupid privacy

Yes, Virginia, the FBI can tap your phone in minutes. And text messages too.

At least they need judges to authorize a warrant before they tap a line, and can't just start eavesdropping on anyone the Attorney General wants. Oh, wait.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The time at the tone is.... Ragnarok

Apparently you can't call a number to find out the time anymore. I like Slashdot's comment, that the machine should end up in a museum, where it will soon be joined by a pay phone.