Late Night Political Rant

I wanted to round up a few political things that are all bugging me:

  • President Obama referring to his bowling scores as something out of the Special Olympics. I very enthusiastically supported Obama, a really sensitive politician who’s an advocate for minorities everywhere. (And it has nothing to do with his race.) Surely, I thought, he’s much more advanced on those issues than MLK-day-opposing McCain would have been. But that only makes it more insulting that Obama would inadvertently put down the Special Olympics. It’s one of those things that a normal person might say and maybe 10% of the population would be offended. But when you’re President, you can’t go around making insensitive remarks that offend 10% of the population. And he really should have known better. The good news is that the Special Olympics are trying to capitalize on the publicity to promote a better sense of tolerance, and Obama seems to feel bad for the condescending remarks, so maybe the inappropriate remarks will spur a long-overdue conversation about discrimination against the disabled.
  • I heard some allusion on talk radio to someone again stating that America was founded as a Christian nation. And I had a long time to dwell on it, and came to think that it’s even more ignorant than I previously thought. Let me get out of the way that I’m a Christian, and I think Christians are great. But we were founded on principles of freedom of religion, because the Founding Fathers were sick and tired of the British government meddling with their religious views. So the claim that we’re a Christian nation seems ignorant of history, as well as the Constitution, which is pretty clear on the issue. It put it in the very first of our many Amendments. The general argument is that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians. That’s true. Most of the founding fathers were also white slave owners who didn’t take showers. But we’re not a nation founded on white supremacy, slavery, or poor hygiene. Most of the founding fathers were Christian, and today, most of our leaders were Christian. That’s great, but it doesn’t make us a nation founded on Christianity. Suppose some of the Founding Fathers were Muslims or Jews. Would that make us a Muslim nation or a Jewish nation? In any case, why does it matter? Christianity is still the dominant religion, and is practiced by most of our political leaders.
  • I saw this article today, and my gut is already wrenching at that outrage I expect from far-right pundits. They hate immigrants, but gay immigrants? And Kerry wants to invite gay illegals into the country?! Except that this isn’t what’s going on at all. He wants the law to provide asylum for those who get married in the US. The law already does, but the government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, so homosexuals don’t have a chance at asylum, while a heterosexual woman who came here, married, and would be attacked if she went back to her home country would be allowed to stay for her own protection. I guarantee you, though, that this will have some people up in arms, and that they’re going to say that Kerry wants to afford special protection to gays and illegal immigrants, when in actuality, it does neither: it just plugs a hole caused by DOMA.

Rethinking Education

I’ve always thought that, although our school system is pretty good comparatively, there’s still massive room for improvement. I think some of the courses I took were utterly and completely wastes of my time. Trigonometry, for example. It has never come up in anything else. When we hit integration of cosine and whatnot in calculus, the professor even joked that it was alright if we didn’t remember the difference between tan, sin, and cos, just that we had to know how to integrate them. And I don’t think trig is a good example of the, “It teaches you how to think” thing, either. It teaches you a set of mathematical skills that don’t come in useful in anything else. This isn’t to say that no one should take trig, just that, after high school, the subject has never come up, and I’d be hard pressed to solve for a hypotenuse. (I guess I remember that much, actually.)

More important, though, are the things I think we can do a much better job of teaching. I took multiple economic classes in college at a prestigious business school, including some that covered things like game theory and way too much detail on product bundling. I took finance courses and learned about TVM and secondary markets and muni bonds and debentures. Compared to the average person, I received way more education on finance and economics. Yet I have only a cursory understanding of the current economic situation in the US. That scares me. We fall down flat with geometry, too. Gym class and computer classes both seem full of potential but often squandered.

So driving home today, with absolutely nothing better to think about, I started wondering about this some more. And I think it helps to stop viewing it as a hypothetical discussion about what an ideal society would teach in schols. I wondered how it would be structured if we started from the ground up.

I think grades 1-5 all teach valuable life skills. But let’s suppose that, after 5th grade, there were only three more years of school. This would be bad, but bear with me. With only three more years of school, what would you teach? Many of the things that come to mind for me are things that aren’t even in school right now, which I think reflects poorly on status quo. Really, though, what would you teach?

Another Monitor Deal

I’ve been trying to make up my mind for a while now on whether or not it’s reasonable to buy another 22″ LCD, to bring one of them into work. At home I have the Mac’s internal LCD (1440×900), plus my 1920×1080 external LCD. At work, though, we have a slew of 17″ LCDs, but 1280×1024 isn’t quite the same as 1920×1080.

Best Buy had a decent deal, though I’m not sure I ever want to try ordering from Best Buy again after my last experience. I went to Newegg to try to price-check, but Newegg didn’t have the LCD I saw at Best Buy. But it turns out they have something even better: the Acer X233Hbid, a 23″ LCD with full 1920×1080 resolution, for a mere $190, shipping included. It’s sort of an ugly color, but that’s the only criticism I can think of. VGA, DVI, and HDMI inputs. Slick. Really slick.

Working at a startup, and living in a cratered economy, I’d put the odds of my work reimbursing me for the monitor at about 0.25%. (Plus, none of the other developers, with much more experience and seniority, have huge LCDs.) But how weird is it to buy yourself equipment for work? If anyone out there is itching for a nice monitor, though, I think this is an excellent buy.

So is this notebook hard drive, incidentally, though I think I posted about it before. 320GB SATA II notebook drive, 7200RPM, 16MB cache. $70 shipped, $20 rebate after that.

Overheating Mac?

My* MacBook Pro tends to run really hot. It’s apparently common, but it drives me crazy to see it at 70+ degrees Celsius. It’s also something you do not want on your lap. If you find a photo of the innards, it seems that there are two fans under the keyboard (by the F1-F12 keys). I’ve never really heard them spin, though. And judging by the temperatures, they don’t do much.

My friend Ryan just pointed out my salvation: a little (500kb!) program called smcFanControl. I just cranked my fans to their apparent maximum of 6000rpm. They were sitting a little under 1000, which is par the course.

I’ve fallen from about 65 Celsius to 43 Celsius. The machine is quite noisy with fans spinning at 6000rpm, but I think I have them much higher than is needed. Dropped down to 2500–more than twice their normal speed–and it’s pretty quiet. Good to keep around, though, to ensure your machine runs cool. And they can evacuate a lot of heat in short order if things get uncomfortably warm.

* My employer may disagree with the phrase “my MacBook Pro,” but legal ownership isn’t the point here.

MattyDubs in the Morning

With a 2+ hour commute in the morning, I’ve discovered the dirty little secret of radio stations: they have about 10 songs that they just cycle through. I’ve also discovered that it’s not at all uncommon for all six of the presets on my radio to have nothing I want to listen to. There’s a huge swath of music I can tolerate. Unless the radio has completely faded from my conscious recognition, though, I can’t stand to sit in my car listening to commercials, and a couple dozen songs get under my skin enough that I change the station. So sometimes I just turn the radio off, enduring a really awkward silence by myself.

But then one day, I had an epiphany. I have an iPod, and it has some really good music on it. It’s kind of like listening to the radio, in that a lot of music on it gets the “Meh” designation I so desire in Pandora. It’s not bad (or it wouldn’t be on my iPod), but it’s not anything special, either. But one day I just let it play, and after a while I’d forgotten it was my iPod. And I found myself wondering what station I was listening to that had played so many good songs in a row.

One of the things I really like is music that was overplayed in years past, but has pretty much been forgotten since. And for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I tend to accumulate really neat remixes of songs, including some great songs remixed into different genres. Nappy Roots’ “Awnaw Rock Remix” might not win any awards, but when was the last time Juvenile or Bawitdaba got played on the radio? I think both would elicit the reaction I had to when they come on: a sort of fond recollection of something I haven’t heard in years. Or maybe Blue (Da Ba Dee) is more your thing?

True, I’d probably end up overplaying songs from Guitar Hero, plus my own Top 50 list of songs.

I forget who, but I heard someone talking about how, when they retire, they want to start a radio station, more as a pasttime than a business. I want to do the same, but I don’t know if I can wait until retirement.

It turns out that a 50,000 Watt FM transmitter is pretty expensive, though, as is a set of FM bays capable of taking that power. And then you have music royalties, electrical costs (for a 50 kW transmitter), plus you have to actually buy all the music.

I really think a station playing songs from my iPod (and that of a few friends for diversity) could give some of the local stations a real run for their money. And a couple promises: the ads for our show, inexplicably advertising what you’re actively listening to, wouldn’t be sexually explicit or even profanity-laced, and our news would be spoken at a speed slow enough for mere mortals to comprehend.

The Trifecta

I mentioned in passing that I ordered the 22″ LCD BestBuy had advertised for $50. It was a crappy monitor on clearance in their Outlet, so I thought there was a decent change it was listed correctly. Still, I wasn’t too surprised when they canceled it a couple days later.

I would contend that they were contractually obligated to fulfil the order given that I had already paid (or at least, presented payment: it’s not as cut-and-dry with credit cards, and even less so when it’s online).

I was a bit surprised when, after they informed me that my answer was canceled, they sent me another e-mail informing me that the order was backordered. As I sat there trying to figure out what this meant (was my order un-canceled? Was I double-charged? Or was it just a pointless e-mail?), another e-mail came in, informing me that the order had been canceled a second time.

I laughed it off as further evidence of incompetence on their part. They put it up with the wrong price, canceled my order due to their mistake, un-canceled my order, and immediately re-canceled it. That was a couple weeks ago. Then I got a survey from them asking about my shopping experience, when I gleefully ripped them a new one, pointing out that they not only failed to honor their product listing, but then sent me a barrage of confusing, contradictory e-mails. I secretly hoped that if I turned up the pressure a little, they’d decide to honor the deal. Of course, I never heard back, and ended up laughing it off as massive incompetence.

I’d pretty much forgotten about it, until tonight. I just got an e-mail informing me that my order has been canceled.

Yes, BestBuy has canceled my order–which was only submitted once and never reopened–three times now, over the span of several weeks.

Code & Ego

I’ve found that a decent sub-set of software developers have huge egos. Hardly all of them, but hardly none of them, either. (And no, no one any of us know comes to mind.)

I forget which it was, but one of the original UNIX developers was famous for a comment before a couple convoluted lines of code which read, “You are not expected to understand this.” It became somewhat famous (infamous?), though he later clarified that he meant it more in a, “This will not be on the examination” sense,¬† and not in a “You’re too dumb to understand my ingenious shortcut here” sense. However misinterpreted, I think it sums up exactly why I can’t stand some software developers, or Perl.

I’m sure there are some great people writing Perl code, but my general experience with Perl has been that the name of the game is writing obfuscated code. Even many of the operations in Perl make no sense, or are just different from every other language on the planet. (A developer at work today, trying to fix an ancient Perl script, ran into the fact that Perl insists on using an “ne” instead of “!=” when comparing strings.)

I’m lucky in that I work with a group of people that are of the, “Let’s do this the clean and proper way” mentality, so we tend to work with pretty readable code. But it took three of us huddled around a screen a few minutes to figure out a bizarre block of code today, when the code, once detangled, was essentially the world’s simplest if() statement.

It just seems that there’s two camps in the software world: those who write clean code and leave good documentation for others that might work on the code, and those that think the purpose of writing software is to show off just how clever you are to other developers.

Worst Virus Attempt Ever

So at work, I receive a copy of all mail sent to the address that we send mail to our users from, meaning¬† that hundreds of thousands of people have this address sitting in their inbox. As such, I receive lots of virus attempts. The Hallmark fake was a big one, probably because it looked so authentic. It even had me fooled looking at the headers, since it spoofs “hallmark.com” as its outgoing HELO string. (The IP, though, was a residential ISP customer. SPF might catch it, although Hallmark’s SPF record is set to “softfail” mail not from one of their IPs.)

But today, I received an e-mail from a random stranger with this subject line: ^Hi,friend^ download this stuff>>>>>>>>>>>>.¬† It just contains a link to a website, so, content that it wasn’t a unique URL (e.g., http://spammer.com/confirm_email.php?email_address=helen@n1zyy.com), I clicked through. It was made up to look like a file sharing site, except that it used JavaScript to push a file called SURPRISE.EXE to the user. There was no secret about this, really; the page indicated that you were downloading it. But it didn’t even push it out to you right away; you had to wait for the timer to count down before it prompted you to download it.

I’m really curious if anyone has been infected with this virus. You have to open the shadiest e-mail ever, click a link, wait to download SURPRISE.EXE, and then manually run it. But perhaps I give users too much credit.

Oh, bonus points: the site is its own domain name (registered by someone in the Virgin Islands), and hosted in Africa. Internet access to Africa is quite scarce, so I tend to think the server would get knocked offline if more than a handful of people tried to download it at once anyway.

Florida

Have you ever noticed that about 75% of the news stories that are so insane you think they can’t possible be true come from Florida?

Here’s yet another example. Police stopped a car because it only had three tires. Shockingly, the driver turned out to be drunk.

Bonus: “A short time later, they arrested him for having a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the level at which the state presumes a person is unable to safely drive… [The driver] registered 0.200 and 0.198 during subsequent Breathalyzer tests… Under state law, a driver is presumed to be impaired if he or she has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.”

Does anyone else think someone failed at statistics class?

Spring Forward

A lot of news stories have been pitching the idea of changing your smoke detector batteries when you change your clock. Probably a good idea. (Especially if you’re Tim/Hannah.)

But I’d like to pitch another idea, being the obsessive-compulsive I am. Not a replacement, but a supplement.

Don’t blindly set your clock an hour ahead. Set your clock to the precise time. GPS provides an excellent time source, though there’s no guarantee that a normal GPS unit actually displays the precision time it’s receiving. It’s probably accurate enough. Cell phones are also usually very reliable. A system running NTP is also a good bet, as it’s usually accurate to a handful of milliseconds. (Unless it runs Windows, in which case it polls for the correct time every 7 days insted of every 1024 seconds, and only if “Internet Time” is enabled. Unless you changed the polling interval in the registry.)

As Monk would say, you’ll thank me later.