Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Adjunct Professor of Computer Science
Associate Director
Artificial Intelligence Center
The University of Georgia
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Copyright 2007 Michael A. Covington.
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Daily Notebook

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Astrophotography for the Amateur Dictionary of Computer and Internet Terms Digital SLR Astrophotography

Popular topics on this page:
Pike's Peak apostrophe controversy
How to get Windows Vista fonts
Delta Air Lines problem: Part 1 Part 2
Comet Lovejoy, discovered with Canon DSLR
Student loans: ticket to poverty?
Bacteria that improve your brain?
Do Christians care about the poor?
COMDEX Spring and Winter, 1984
Windows war stories
Windows update won't install (SQL Server, KB921896)
What Windows Vista is all about
Programming Windows DVD Maker
Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 under Vista
Vista pre-logon Num Lock setting
Vista missing menus

For more topics, scroll down, press Ctrl-F to search
the page, or check previous months.
North America Nebula (NGC 7000)
Orion (incl. Horsehead)
M65 M66 NGC 3628
Galaxy near Helix Nebula
Many more...

In memoriam:
Sebastian Shaumyan


BOOK SALE - I'm selling off some scholarly books via Amazon Marketplace. Have a look!



Again, I'm uploading this entry early. Read tomorrow's news today! Or even the day after tomorrow's news!

A missing menu in Windows Vista

Once you settle into Windows Vista, you'll notice, as I did, that when you're looking at the contents of a folder, the menu indicated with the arrow in the picture below is not normally visible.

Windows Vista

To make it visible, press and release the Alt key.

Once you have it there, do yourself a favor. Choose Tools, Folder Options, View, and make these settings:

Folder options

That is:

  • Always show menus, so the menu we're talking about will always be there;
  • Show hidden files and folders, so you'll see a little more of your environment; and, most importantly,
  • Do not hide extensions of known file types, so you'll see BLAH.EXE or BLAH.TXT or BLAH.JPG rather than just BLAH.

In my opinion, hiding the extensions is a security hole. It's Windows' default, but it shouldn't be. People will send you SOMETHING.GIF.EXE and you'll think it's SOMETHING.GIF and open it.

Still more Vista tips

Can't unblock files? When you download a program (an .exe file) from the Internet, Windows flags it as having come from another machine, and you get asked for permission every time you run it. You can right-click and choose Properties, Unblock, to clear away this flag. Except that you can't do this in Vista if you've moved the file into Program Files. Nor do you get an error message. They should at least give an error message explaining what's going on.

Installing Visual Studio 2005: Sadly, this (perhaps Microsoft's finest product) is not compatible with Vista! At least not until you patch it.

When installing, you'll get the message "This program has known compatibility issues" about three times. Each time, click "Run program." After it's installed, download and apply the enormous VS 2005 Service Pack 1 and then the medium-sized VS 2005 Service Pack 1 Update for Vista. Allow an extremely long time for each of these; there will be several 15-minute periods when each of them seems to be doing nothing.

The Start Menu has moved: The Start Menu for all users is no longer in:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu.
Now It's in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu.

That's important because many installation programs write into that directory. Fortunately, if they write to
as they should, Vista will redirect what they're writing so that it goes into the right place (even though, as given, that path doesn't include Microsoft\Windows).

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Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 under Windows Vista (32-bit)

See also my notes about this scanner under Windows XP, here.

This information pertains only to 32-bit versions of Windows. If you are using a 64-bit version, click here.

Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 The Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 film scanner is a SCSI device and is a bit tricky to get working under Windows XP and Vista. Here's how I got mine working under Vista. I am using an Adaptec 2930 SCSI card, but others should work equally well.

Please note that I do not work for Nikon and do not have any information other than what I am posting here. If you need someone to "talk you through" setup procedures, please find someone locally who is familiar with SCSI equipment and with Windows Vista. If called upon to give substantial help to anyone other than my own students and colleagues, I'll have to charge a consulting fee.

  • I assume you are using an administrator account and you know about "Run as Administrator" and the basics of Vista security.

    This goes for running the application software, too. So far, I have not tested whether a "basic user" can run Nikon Scan successfully. Probably so, but I don't know. I've been running with an administrator account, which is the first account created after installing Vista. Because of the way Vista works, such an account does not have administrator privileges continuously the way it would have in earlier versions of Windows.
  • Download and unpack Nikon Scan 3.1.2 (downloadable from Nikon); other versions won't do. (If you are going to use Vuescan, you don't actually have to install Nikon Scan, but you do need the driver files that come with it.)
  • The scanner does not need a driver in order to work, and Nikon does not provide one. But Windows is implacable! It will keep saying "Found New Hardware" every time you turn the scanner on.

    One solution (which I have not tried) is to tell Vista to stop trying to install a driver. The other solution is to install the LS2000 driver, whose INF file also declares it to be a driver for the LS-30. To do that, simply tell Vista to look among the Nikon Scan files that you unpacked. The driver will be found and installed.
  • At this point you can use the Coolscan with Vuescan but not Nikon Scan. (We'll get to that shortly.) It's worth downloading the trial version of Vuescan to see if it works, for troubleshooting purposes.

    Note that Vuescan normally unpacks itself into C:\VUESCAN and sets up a link on the desktop but is not uninstallable from the Control Panel. This is somewhat uncouth. To uninstall Vuescan you have to manually delete everything.
  • Install Nikon Scan, try it out, and you'll see that it can't communicate with the scanner. That's because there is no ASPI driver installed. Here is how to install one.

    • Go to Adaptec, search for "ASPI," and find Adaptec ASPI 4.71 (for Windows XP). Download it and run it. It will unpack a set of files into C:\ADAPTEC\ASPI.
    • Don't use ASPIINST.EXE to install ASPI — it won't work (and didn't work in XP either). Instead, open All Programs, Accessories, and right-click on Command Prompt and choose Run as Administrator. Then type the command:

      C:\ADAPTEC\ASPI\install.bat xp32

      (giving the correct drive and folder if it wasn't C:\ADAPTEC\ASPI). This should copy 3 files into place.
    • Reboot.
    • Optional: If you want to verify that you have ASPI installed, go to C:\ADAPTEC\ASPI again, right-click on ASPICHK.EXE, choose Properties, and set Windows XP SP2 compatibility. Until you do that, ASPICHK won't work because it thinks it's in a strange and alien operating system.
  • Now Nikon Scan should work. Remember to have the scanner turned on when you boot up.

Vista pre-logon Num Lock setting

I use a compact keyboard that uses letter keys for the numeric keypad, like a laptop. In order for me to type my password, Num Lock has to be off when I log on to Windows.

Just like in Windows XP, the pre-logon value of Num Lock is controlled by the registry key

HKEY_USERS\.Default\Control Panel\Keyboard\InitialKeyboardIndicators

which should be 2 for on, or 0 for off.

Bizarrely, Vista had it set to 2147483648. I changed it to 0 and my keyboard is working as it should.

Actually, 2147483648 = binary 100000000000000000000000000000000000, which is not as bizarre as it first looked. I wonder if this is a mistake for all zeroes, or if that topmost 1 means something.

More Vista miscellany

In Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs is now called Programs and Features.

The quickest way to link to an FTP site (such as the place you upload your web pages) is to create a shortcut to:

explorer ftp://user:password@www.somewhere.com/webpages/etc

(or whatever the path should be). I think this also works in previous versions of Windows. You can leave out the password if you want to be prompted for it.

The only hardware I've found so far that isn't completely supported by Vista is my Creative Labs AudioPCI Sound Blaster. Actually, only the game port on it is unsupported. The sound card works fine.

If you're a computer criminal wanting to create a spambot virus, I suggest you go jump in the lake. But if you don't do that, I suggest you target the Macintosh. The world is full of Macs that are wide-open targets because their owners are sure that there will never be any Macintosh viruses. Vista, on the other hand, is distinctly harder to get into than Windows used to be.

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Making video DVDs the easy way
Windows DVD Maker in Windows Vista

Lots of us write programs that generate video output of some kind which we would like to burn onto video DVDs. Windows Vista provides the easiest way yet to do this.

The reason is that Windows DVD Maker's project file format is XML. Here's an example:

<ContentFile Filename="C:\vids\alpha.avi"/>
<ContentFile Filename="C:\vids\beta.avi"/>
<Title>Your Title Goes Here</Title>
<Style>Full Screen</Style>
<Font Name="Segoe UI" Color="0xFFFFFDA4" 
 Bold="0" Italic="0"/>
<Button Play="Play" Scenes="Scenes" Notes="Notes"/>
<Notes>Notes would go here.</Notes>
<SlideShow Transition="Cross fade" PanZoom="1" 
 MatchMusic="0" Length="7.000000"/>

This is a file saved from DVD Maker (with extension .msdvd), but you can equally well generate such a file with your own software and then let Vista do the burning.

Windows DVD Maker is included with Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate (not Basic or Business). More information about programming it is here (never mind the typos in their XML), and also here.

This is not the only software that will burn DVDs from an XML description. ConvertXToDVD is another, which I haven't tried yet. I'm trying to find out what others are out there. I know the Nero API will take XML files from within a program, but can anyone tell me whether any version of Nero Vision (the application) will do so?

By the way, I'm now running Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate on Minerva, my main computer. The computer dual-boots Vista and XP, and so far, XP is what I still do my real work with. I'm going to try out my hardware and software, item by item, under Vista before taking the plunge and upgrading the main disk.

The Missouri State Social Work Scandal

The School of Social Work at Missouri State University has really gotten itself in trouble. The president of that university has threatened to shut the School of Social Work down in response to an outside review that suggested doing so.

That outside review is a remarkable piece of prose, written by two deans of social work schools at other universities, who were hired to come in and troubleshoot the Missouri one.

The scandal broke when the Alliance Defense Fund (which is a sort of Christian ACLU that defends freedom of religious expression) brought a lawsuit on behalf of a student.

According to the lawsuit, a professor assigned the student to write a letter to a legislator supporting adoption of children by gays and lesbians. The student didn't want to do so, and besides, it's massively improper (maybe even illegal) for a professor (himself a state employee) to pressure a student or subordinate to promote a political position. (In Georgia, I think it would actually be against the law for me to do such a thing.) Reportedly, the professor also made other improper "assignments" involving sexual behavior. For refusing, the student was subjected to an "ethics investigation" and punished.

While not admitting all of the allegations, Missouri State University settled the lawsuit immediately and conducted a harrowing (but proper) review of the School of Social Work.

The lawsuit did not ask for exorbitant damages. The student got her record cleared and got several years of free tuition — not millions of dollars in punitive damages or anything like that. The university was probably grateful to get off so easily. This kind of scandal could have blown up much bigger.

At times like these I'm glad to breathe the free air of the University of Georgia. For all our faults, we are a campus that tolerates diversity (instead of just talking about tolerating diversity), and that means tolerating all parts of the political spectrum, not just the avant-garde. Also, our institution has the good sense not to take positions, as a whole, on controversies. Instead, political activism is left to individuals, as it should be.

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If you like endless loops, read this.

The Earth seems to have captured an asteroid as a temporary satellite. I wonder how many times this has happened in the past with objects bright enough to be visible.

Latest excuse: If you want to misuse the Internet, then leave your wireless network adapter unsecured so you can claim somebody else drove by and used it.

If, of course, you are a rational and law-abiding citizen, never set up an unsecured wireless network, or people will drive by and use it, and probably read your confidential data in the process. In my opinion, wireless network adapters ought to come right out of the box with unique encryption keys already set, so that nobody would use them without setting one.

Speaking of computer safety, do you have backups of your important files? This evening, about $140 at Office Max bought us a 500-GB external USB 2.0 hard disk. That's enough to make full backups of both our machines. Then I'll store it in my office so that even if the house gets struck by lightning, we'll still have backups.

And in 6 months I'll spend another $140, or less, for another such drive, to use as the second backup disk. I don't like to erase a backup until I've made another backup of the same data.

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New blog

Don't read my blog today. Read Cathy's.

(For the full text of Cathy's blog, click here.)

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What Windows Vista is really all about

This is the first Notebook entry to be written using Windows Vista. I'm using Release Candidate 1, which expires June 1, but I'll probably have the real thing (Vista Ultimate) in a few days.

Notoriously, Microsoft can't tell me why any of its products is superior. (They named their brilliant object-oriented OS API ".NET Framework" as if it were something for networks, thereby successfully concealing how good it was.) So I turned to Mark Minasi to find out what Vista is really all about.

This book is where the answers are. Fundamentally, Vista is about security. It's the first version of Windows where you really can't pretend you're still running Windows 95. You can still run Windows 95 programs, and even Windows 3.1 programs, if they're reasonably well-behaved, but you can't turn off all the security provisions and log on as Administrator all the time. You can't take the helmet off, or at least you can't keep it off very long.

Here are the key ideas:

(1) Even Administrator isn't Administrator any more. That is, even administrator accounts don't run with "elevated" privileges all the time. When an operation comes along that requres elevated privileges, you get a pop-up like this:

UAC popup

This corresponds to a paradigm shift that happened with UNIX a while back: instead of logging on as root, we log on as a regular user and "su root" when we need privileges.

More importantly, malware can't install itself without your knowledge. When you click on a web site, that web site cannot install software on your computer without your consent.

This feature is called User Account Control (UAC) and lots of people hate it. Don't turn it off — it's there for your protection, and if you turn it off, virtualization (the next item I'm going to mention) gets turned off too. Then your old software — the kind that says "Windows XP" on the package but "Windows 95" in the programmer's head — won't run.

(2) Virtualization allows your software to think it's writing in Program Files or in the machine registry even when it isn't allowed to.

This is a really clever move that will allow some ill-behaved software to run better under Vista than on a properly secured XP machine. If a program tries to write where it shouldn't, Vista will quietly create a "virtual" Program Files folder or machine registry that is stored in per-user setting space (i.e., it belongs just to the user account that created it). That means your programs can still write their custom settings in Program Files, and when they do, each user will get his own separate set of settings.

(3) Documents and Settings and My Documents have been renamed Users and Documents respectively. Hurrah! The path is shorter and no longer contains spaces.

But woe to any program that tries to write in Documents and Settings. It simply can't do it. Documents and Settings still exists, as a hidden folder, so that nothing else will create it accidentally. Programs that try to write there will simply crash. (I don't know whether the compatibility modes for running older software will catch references to Documents and Settings and redirect them; maybe so; I'm checking.)

Proper Windows software, of course, never writes in Documents and Settings. That name is unlikely to be hard-coded into programs because it didn't work in Windows 95 and 98.

(4) File versioning is here — that is, past versions of your files are saved and can be retrieved. I haven't looked into this yet; presumably there's a capacity limit.

(5) DVDs are first-class citizens and are supported like CDs.

That's what's new. The "Aero" user interface is, in my opinion, a bit slow and I'm going to turn it off. (Note: When I switched to the "Classic" desktop theme, Vista suddenly got a lot faster. A word to the wise!)

Good for a few chuckles

You can buy the title of "Duke" or "Lord" here and also here. Apparently British law allows you to change your name in such a way that a title is part of it, provided you're not impersonating anybody else. That's the first chap's theory. The second fellow believes that if you own a tiny bit of Scottish land, you're entitled to a title with it. I doubt that either theory would hold up in court.

What kind of person would want to have a title he didn't earn or inherit? Maybe I'm being too American here...

Or maybe these things are actually being purchased as gag gifts. Read the testimonials carefully.

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Web page size considerations

This page has just been slightly redesigned, making its minimum width about 50 pixels narrower, so that it can be viewed in a 768-pixel-wide browser (which gives about 750 pixels for the web page itself). That's because Tablet PC screens are 768 pixels wide and so are other 1024×768 monitors that happened to be turned upright (in portrait mode). Those are the narrowest screens in wide use.

Today I was asked how to set the dots per inch for a picture to be displayed on the Web. The answer? It doesn't matter in the least. JPEG and several other file formats let you set a number of pixels per inch, but that's only for printing. It doesn't affect how the picture is displayed on the screen, nor how your graphics software will edit it.

The following two pictures are each 121×176 pixels, but one is designated 300 pixels per inch, and the other, 75. They will print at radically different sizes if you print them individually with Photoshop, but on the screen, and when you print a web page, they're the same picture.

Michael A. Covington Michael A. Covington

On the Web, everything is displayed at a resolution of 1 pixel per pixel. Unless, of course, it isn't — but if you tell your video driver to scale everything, results are often ugly, so I don't encourage it.


Vista apprehension: One of my consulting projects is apparently going to require Windows Vista, so I'm going to put Vista Ultimate on my development machine — in dual-boot mode. I'm hearing all sorts of contradictory things about whether it will run the software I already have. XP to Vista is a much bigger change than 2000 to XP.

Congress is breathing down the necks of the airline industry — mostly about schedules (some of which are "deceptive"), but I hope they'll get to the lost-luggage issue eventually.

And here is an interesting piece by economist Steven Landsburg about another kind of environmental harm done by cars. He's referring, not to pollution, but to the huge amount of land that is laid waste so that we can park them. Think about the surface area of parking lots and parking spaces, both used and unused. That much land is cleared of vegetation and kept out of more productive uses.

This is related to something I've been saying for a while. One of my heretical opinions is that the reason universities have chronic, severe parking shortages is that parking is not expensive enough. That is, they don't charge what it actually costs, so they never have enough. If parking doesn't pay its own way, then everybody else has to subsidize it, whether they know it or not.

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A wildfire visible from space
And apparently smellable from 200 miles away

Georgia satellite map

When we woke up yesterday morning, the entire county smelled like a forest fire, and the smoke was reportedly coming from a wildfire that has been burning for several days on the north side of the Okefenokee Swamp, 200 miles south of us. The smell has also been reported in Atlanta.

I'm a bit skeptical because the GOES-East satellite image, which you see here, shows the smoke drifting to the southwest and extending only about 60 miles. But it's an interesting picture nonetheless. I grabbed it from the GOES-East web site, enhanced the image, and added labels. The arrow points to the fire.

The light-colored mottle across the southern half of the state is, I'm guessing, farm fields cleared for planting.

Windows update won't install (SQL Server, KB921896)

Last night's Windows update was an update to SQL Server Express Edition, which is apparently something that comes in with Visual Studio.

Mine wouldn't install. I kept getting notified that an update was ready, and then that it hadn't installed successfully, over and over.

Eventually I found a helpful tech support forum in India, http://forums.techarena.in/showthread.php?t=700347, which directed me to the folder

C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\90\Setup Bootstrap\LOG\Hotfix

and the log files in it. The trouble was that the SQL Express Server wasn't able to start up. Event Viewer told me why: it didn't have write permission in some subfolder of C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL.1.

Since this isn't a production server, I simply gave all users full control over the whole folder, and then the update installed successfully. I could probably narrow this down if security were important. But in fact SQL Server Express is something I never use.

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Congratulations to Sharon!

Emory at Oxford Sharon, my younger daughter, has just accepted a substantial scholarship offer from Emory University. She will spend two years on their original campus in Oxford, Georgia, and then move to the main Atlanta campus to finish up.

If you watch lowbrow TV, you've probably seen part of the Emory-at-Oxford campus in the opening sequence of The Dukes of Hazzard. In real life, it's a lot more dignified than that!

My favorite Emory slogan is:


Emory has never played intercollegiate football.

More Windows war stories

Another thing Raymond Chen tells us a lot about is the amount of work that went into making Windows run on defective hardware by cleverly working around the defects.

PC's are made as cheaply as possible, often nobody knows where, and quality control consists of trying out one version of Windows briefly. The next version of Windows comes along and tries to use a little more of the hardware's capabilities, and the machine crashes.

At one point Microsoft had some interesting exchanges with puzzled Intel engineers before realizing that a particular set of failures was caused by overclocking. Some people expect Windows to make their Intel CPUs run at speeds that Intel says is too fast for them!

Then there are the bogus device drivers, which tell the operating system they're doing things they don't actually do. And in one case, a manufacturer started to chew Microsoft out for misspelling the name of their product. The answer? "It's misspelled in the device driver that you provided with it."

In other Windows trivia, I've just learned that a windowed .NET application can have a console. Just tell the compiler it's a console app, and voilà — it works the same as before, and in addition, there's a console window which you can write on with Console.WriteLine.

This can be useful as a temporary debugging tactic or for displaying some kind of log information. The Console package lets you change the console window's title. I suppose that with some digging around in Win32, you could also make it visible or invisible as needed.

At the end of the school year...

Here are two words, both in the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • examination "testing" (from Latin examen 'test')
  • exanimation "killing" (from Latin ex- + anima 'soul')

At this time of year it's sometimes hard to tell one from the other.

Last night (Saturday) was prom night for one or more of the local high schools. When Melody and I were going to dinner, we saw a long, black stretch-model Hummer, which struck us as a ridiculous vehicle. A couple of hours later, I heard on the scanner radio that it had collided with another stretch limo. Like attracts like, I suppose.

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Windows war stories

The Old New Thing The book I enjoyed reading this evening is The Old New Thing, by Raymond Chen.

The author is one of Microsoft's leading Windows developers, and the book is a collection of short accounts of how one or another thing came to be the way it is. In fact, the book is based on the author's blog, which you can read here.

One recurring theme is that a lot of work went into making specific commercial software run correctly even though the software was programmed wrong and only worked in previous versions of Windows by sheer good luck. Many commercial software developers have made a practice of defying Microsoft at every turn, disassembling the operating system to use undocumented internal features, or even modifying the operating system without the user's consent. Of course, programs built this way will break as soon as Windows undergoes even a tiny change.

We're about to see another wave of this with Windows Vista, which is much pickier about security violations than earlier versions have been. See my entry for April Fools' Day, 2004 for more about what well-intentioned programmers do wrong.

Parts of Chen's book are about Win32 programming and are of less interest to me. The way I see it, Windows has grown up in two stages:

  1. Figuring out how to make a windowed OS run smoothly. That started with the Xerox Star, then comprised the Macintosh, the X Window System under UNIX, and so forth, more or less concurrently. Windows was way behind the game until version 3.1. With Windows NT (Win32), this development was basically complete.
  2. Figuring out how to make windowed programming easy. Inherently, a windowed OS is hard for a human being to understand. All the windows are responding to events and passing messages around. A great breakthrough occurred about 12 years ago, with Visual Basic and Borland Delphi, when programming language designers finally figured out what windowed programming ought to be like.

The Microsoft .NET Framework, of which I am an enthusiastic champion, brings (2) in step with (1) by providing an operating system API that is actually made of the right kinds of things. For me, Win32 is a level of infrastructure that I'd rather not use directly.

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Superstar course: Cathy has managed to register for this course in genetics and creative writing. Well done, Cathy!

I wish I were in Seattle so I could go to the Museum of Communications. [Link corrected.] The web site is impressive; the museum, I'm told, is even more so.

Yale University has amusing football songs, including "Boola Boola." Hear them here.

Finally, Peter Erdman has taken a truly extraordinary wide-field picture of the nebulae in Orion and surrounding constellations. It's a mosaic taken in narrow-bandwidth H-alpha light.

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COMDEX/Spring 1984 Los Angeles — did it exist?

I remember very well going to COMDEX/Spring, the computer trade show, in 1984 in the Los Angeles Convention Center. It had to be 1984; I had accepted my job at the University of Georgia but had not yet started it. And it had to be Los Angeles; I lived there.

This was memorable as the last COMDEX that was not dominated by the IBM PC architecture. In 1984, there was a wild range of competing computers, including Apple II, Atari, Commodore, and, on the high end, the newly released AT&T 3B2, which had an expensive showroom all to itself.

I went to many subsequent spring COMDEXes in Atlanta, which was their usual location.

But the mystery about the Los Angeles one is that people are telling me it didn't exist — that COMDEX/Spring 1984 was in Atlanta.

Can someone confirm that COMDEX/Spring 1984 in Los Angeles was real? Did they also have a show in Atlanta just a few days away from it?

The answer: It took Pete Albrecht only a few minutes to solve the mystery. On April 5-7, 1984, COMDEX/Winter was held in Los Angeles. (Strange definition of "winter.") COMDEX/Spring was a month later, in Atlanta. Both are mentioned here; click for a trip down memory lane.

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Virginia Tech

The world is still in shock from the massacre at Virginia Tech two days ago. It is doubly sad for me because the German teacher who was killed, Jamie Bishop, is someone I knew slightly when he was in graduate school at the University of Georgia.

What I'm afraid of, now, is that there will be an overreaction that will reduce the freedom of innocent people without making them substantially safer.

We need to remember that this was an extremely rare event. The Commonwealth of Virginia is 400 years old this year, and this is the first such incident they've ever had. There's a risk of copycats, especially in the first few weeks, but mass murder is, thankfully, not a common crime in the United States.

Gun control laws wouldn't have prevented this crime; the perpetrator planned it far enough in advance that he could easily have gotten guns from another state, or on the black market. Virginia probably already had a law against bringing guns onto campus without authorization.

(The shooter in the 1966 Texas massacre actually met armed resistance from people with deer rifles. Gun control effectively prevented anything like that from happening this time.)

I do fault the Virginia Tech police for not locking down the campus, or at least patrolling it very heavily, after the first shooting. If there's a murder on a university campus and the killer is still at large, security should be tightened down.

Cathy astutely points out that the shooter wanted to commit "suicide by police" and heavy police patrols would have made it much easier for him to do so without killing so many other people.

It is also important to figure out whether the crime could have been predicted. Did the student show signs of being severely disturbed?

And this, in turn, feeds right into a notorious mental health dilemma. Should severely depressed students be expelled from college? That's standard policy in a lot of places; it means the college is no longer liable if the student kills himself.

But what a thing to do to a depressed human being! It's a good way to permanently ruin the career of someone who otherwise might well have recovered without incident. If the penalty for being depressed is expulsion, that more or less guarantees that depressed students will not seek help.

Note added later: It is now coming out that this person's problem was not depression; it was something much stranger, but there were lots of signals that he was a dangerous person, and people should have paid attention to them.

Another note added later: To sum up, we should focus entirely on how well Virginia Tech handled a freakish, rare incident rather than trying to hunt down "causes" as if it were a common event. That would be like evacuating the coast permanently after a tsunami. In particular, the "breakdown of American society" has little or nothing to do with this, since the perpetrator wasn't American!

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Our thoughts and prayers are with Virginia Tech after yesterday's tragedy. At this stage, all one can do is express puzzlement and hope that some understanding of this human disaster will eventually emerge.

Lights aglow

Melody and I spent Sunday evening fixing up the fluorescent lights in our kitchen. We have a grand total of 10 48-inch fluorescent tubes above a translucent suspended ceiling.

And fluorescent lamps are insidious. They get gradually dimmer and more prone to flickering over the years, without burning out completely.

The ballasts deteriorate insidiously, too. I don't know much about their failure mode — leakage in the capacitor? — but I know they gradually go out of specification until they become incompatible with some bulbs, then more bulbs, then all bulbs.

So on Sunday night we replaced a lot of bulbs, and we replaced the 3 most finicky ballasts (all the magnetic rapid-start type) with Advance Centium electronic ballasts, which are much more compatible with bulbs that are slightly out of specification, even bulbs with a broken cathode.

Here are some discoveries from this great endeavor:

  • Thin (F32T8) bulbs aren't supposed to work in old-style (F40T12) fixtures, but in fact, in our experience GE Ecolux Kitchen & Bath T8 bulbs work fine, and they even work with aging ballasts that are starting to have trouble with the bulbs for which they were actually designed.

    Hmmm... Is there any reason I shouldn't be doing this? During the early days of thin bulbs, a few years ago, I installed a couple in place of thick bulbs, and they're still working fine. On Sunday I installed several more.
  • I had a remarkable collection of bulbs with one of the 2 cathodes burned out. Unlike electronic ballasts, rapid-start (old-style) ballasts heat the cathodes (filaments) and gradually burn them out. But if only one of the two is burned out, the bulb still lights, a bit less brightly and less reliably than before; you may think it's a good bulb. Of course, with an electronic ballast it still is a good bulb.

    To check cathodes, use an ohmmeter across the two pins at each end of the bulb.
  • You can now get a 5000 K full-spectrum compact fluorescent from Sylvania called the Supermini Craft Light. It goes in a desk lamp in place of an incandescent bulb. There are two sizes, 13 and 23 watts, equivalent to conventional 60- and 100-watt bulbs. Both are safe in fixtures rated for 60 watts. This is a way to get the advantages of Ott-Lite at a much lower price.
  • Manufacturers' web pages are not up to date. Neither Sylvania nor GE has documentation on the web for the products that we bought over the weekend!
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A really good Spanish-English, English-Spanish dictionary

Collins dictionary Let me heartily recommend the Collins Spanish Unabridged Dictionary.

Melody and I came across it while she was trying to check the translations of some Spanish terms on her employer's web site. What is the Spanish for sprayer? Most dictionaries give you a handful of words with no indication of how they differ. This one, however, picks apart the meanings of the English word and gives you the Spanish equivalent of each. It even distinguishes sprayers for insecticides, paint, and nasal spray. Well done!

They also offer similar dictionaries for German and French, but I haven't looked at them.

Bomb the University of Georgia?

A local politician's joke (?) sounded more like a terroristic threat. "State Sen. Jim Whitehead ... [a] 10th Congressional District candidate, was quoted by an Elberton newspaper saying that the university is 'a bunch of liberals,' adding that, except for the football team, someone ought to bomb it."

I'm quoting the Athens Banner-Herald; see also this copy.

And he wants me to vote for him for Congress now?

In this Notebook, I will never endorse a candidate. But I reserve the right to de-endorse some of them!

Short notes

I've added new information to several recent entires. Scroll through and look for dark red type.

Microsoft Sound Recorder (in every copy of Windows under Programs, Accessories, Entertainment) does not run on computers with more than 2 GB of RAM. It complains of not enough memory available.

No alternative is provided. This fact led me to download and install the magnificent Praat speech analysis package when all I really wanted to do, two days ago, was make someone a recording of the pronunciation of a few Latin words.

Here is a fine biographical sketch of Milton Friedman, who, throughout his career, made good predictions but was not appreciated by his fellow economists. He was also one of the people who persuaded Nixon to abolish the draft (a decision made in 1969, but it didn't take effect until 1973).

(I think one reason McGovern didn't win in '72 is that Nixon was a better liberal!)

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Putting lots of black on your screen will not "save the earth"

Jeff Duntemann pointed me to this web site, which claims that we need to redesign our software to put more black and dark colors on the screen, to reduce the energy consumption of the monitor and thereby Save The Earth.

The site cites a research paper by a team of scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory who suspected that darker computer displays would save energy, but didn't look closely enough at their own data to realize that it doesn't work that way.

Their data (on p. 19 of the aforementioned paper) show some energy saving from a darker screen display on a CRT, but none on an LCD. (Well, if you don't think about measurement tolerances you might think there's just a tiny bit.) And LCDs always use far less energy than CRTs.

The fallacy of the dark screen is the following. Screens emit light, and light is energy, so if we get them to emit less light, we save energy, right?

As my friend Bob Stearns used to say, "R-O-N-G, wrong!"

The letters LCD stand for liquid crystal display. Liquid crystals are chemicals that change color in response to electricity (or heat or pressure). An LCD computer screen is always backlit by a fluorescent light source. The liquid crystals either transmit the light or block it, depending on their state.

A correspondent points out that it takes electricity to make the liquid crystals block light. So a dark LCD screen should use more electricity than a white one. Rapid motion of the image also uses more electricity because the LCD cells are overdriven to make them change faster.

Let me make a counterproposal. To save energy, use light colors on your computer screen so the user can turn the brightness control down. Reducing the intensity of the backlighting does save energy, and it's just the opposite of what will happen if eco-bunglers force black-on-black displays upon us.

Of course, another factor is that if you make a machine harder to use, you get less of whatever benefit the machine is supposed to give you — and you end up wasting something else, probably energy in some other place. Environmental activists very often ignore this, or even think that discomfort and inefficiency are virtuous.

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Uploaded early! Read tomorrow's news today!

Galaxies in Leo

Galaxies in Leo

Here you see (top to bottom) the galaxies NGC 3628, M65, and M66 in the constellation Leo. This is a stack of twelve (yes, twelve) 3-minute exposures with a Canon EOS 20Da and a Canon 300-mm f/4 lens wide open; you're looking at a small region of the picture. This was taken in my back yard under magnitude 4 skies.

The galaxy near the Helix Nebula

Helix Nebula

Here's one of my pictures of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) from last summer. This is a relatively nearby gas cloud emitted by a dying star.

But I want to call your attention to the small, faint smudge indicated by the arrow. It is a much more distant object, apparently a galaxy seen edge-on. It also appears in some observatory photographs of the Helix Nebula; I invite you to look for them on Google right now.

This galaxy is not listed in any major catalogues, and almost nothing is known about it. It is given the designation 2MASX J22290968-2047179 in the 2-Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), and as you can see here, little is known about it except its apparent position and color (which is mostly a measure of the effect of the dust clouds in front of it, not the nature of the galaxy itself). (I thank Dave Riddle for the reference.)

A further communiqué from Dave Riddle tells me this galaxy is also known as Mitchell Anonymous Catalogue (MAC) 2229-2047 and is 16th magnitude. That makes it about 10,000 times fainter than the Andromeda Galaxy.

Yet it is probably bigger than the whole starry sky as seen with the unaided eye from Earth.

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They still don't get it

Stem cell poll You can misinform people by asking questions (e.g., "Has he stopped beating his wife?") just as much as by making statements. And here's a poll question that misinforms people. It was taken on CNN.com on April 12.

The misinformation is the assumption that some people have moral objections to "stem cell research" per se. As far as I know, nobody does.

CNN persists in giving the world the impression that some set of conservative people are "against stem cell research," with the implication that they don't want diseases to be cured or suffering to be alleviated.

In reality, the controversy is only about the destruction of human embryos. There are plenty of other ways to obtain stem cells. Nobody is against stem cell research. Only the method of obtaining stem cells is controversial.


Note the added information in yesterday's item about Christians and poverty. I want to make it clear that I'm citing actual economic and sociological research, not partisan preconceptions.

Weird world of finance: Responding to a developing kickback scandal, student-loan providers argue that free competition would just confuse people and create "turmoil." (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)

International security: The University is starting to train researchers on how to deal with national security risks. There's a training session today, but I don't have time to go. Anyhow, my main overseas contact these days is in Scotland. Should I be watching out for bands of Scottish secret agents, armed with kilts and bagpipes, invading my lab and looking for military secrets? Does my Harris Tweed jacket mark me as a closet Scot?

A few years ago somebody wanted to liberate the animals in my lab. I had to explain that we have no lifeforms lower than graduate students.

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Unusually brazen (or foolish?) phisher

Look at the headers on this fake e-mail that was purportedly from Bank of America, and especially the parts I underlined.

Return-Path: <insolent@psodivas.com>
Received: from puntd1.cc.uga.edu (puntd1.cc.uga.edu [])
   by punts5.cc.uga.edu (MOS 3.7.4c)
   with ESMTP id AQF31108;
   Fri, 30 Mar 2007 09:58:24 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from bandit.phatservers.com (bandit.phatservers.com [])
   by puntd1.cc.uga.edu (MOS 3.7.4b-GA)
   with ESMTP id BTJ29592;
   Fri, 30 Mar 2007 09:58:23 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from apache by bandit.phatservers.com with local (Exim 4.60)
   (envelope-from <insolent@psodivas.com>)
   id 1HXF1U-000Nbi-Tb
   for mc@uga.edu; Fri, 30 Mar 2007 04:12:01 -0700
To: mc@uga.edu
Subject: Bank of America Alert:Secure Online Bank Account Update
From: Bank of America Alert
Reply-To: onlinebanking@alert.bankofamerica.com
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2007 04:12:00 -0700

He has named himself "insolent bandit" and has rigged it so that if you reply to his e-mail, the reply will actually go to Bank of America, not to him, thus causing him to get caught almost immediately. (If it doesn't go to Bank of America, it will bounce as undeliverable; and at any moment Bank of America could set up a computer that would actually receive it.)

I gather the intelligence level of the average phisher is not too high these days.

Do Christians care about the poor?

A common accusation against conservative Christians is that, contrary to our marching orders from Jesus, we don't care about the poor.

This may be a real failing of some suburban churches that stratify by social class — but those churches aren't particularly conservative, in my experience.

On the whole, though I think my colleague David Mustard hit the nail on the head with this remark:

Some people understate the amount of concern because they measure one's concern by one's willingness to use the state to take resources from some people and distribute those resources to other people. Many Christians who are very concerned about poverty, etc., believe that market mechanisms and private action are more effective than state redistribution or state regulations.

In short: We believe in helping the poor, but not in forcing you to help the poor, and we don't think government is the solution to every problem.

Also (in complete agreement with economics experts) we feel that "help" often means creating business opportunities, employment, etc., not handouts. We don't want to separate "the poor" into a subclass that we can patronize and look down on while we "help" them. All too often, people who are into "helping the poor" want to do just that.

These are not just Dr. Mustard's opinions. I'm quoting from a paper in which he cites a whole series of economic and sociological research results. See for example the web site of Arthur C. Brooks and the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture. Both of these emphasize using actual data rather than ideological assumptions. They also make it clear that if you want to identify religious people, you must pay attention to actual practice, not self-labeling so that you don't count "Christians" who only go to church for weddings and funerals.

See especially Brooks's book, Who Really Cares? One of the most interesting facts in it is that (social) conservatives donate more blood than liberals do. This is not because they're richer; everybody has the same amount of blood, but some are more willing to share it.


Who would have thought there were hundreds of kangaroos just outside Atlanta?

Meanwhile, here's another stem-cell triumph, again not involving embryonic stem cells, and hence free of ethical controversy.

And here's a trip down memory lane with IBM typewriters. My 1975 Selectric II is still working — I used it to type envelopes just the other day.

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Bacteria that improve your brain?

Scientists at Bristol University have found a bacterial infection that cures depression by raising your serotonin levels. More precisely, developing an immunity to the bacteria is what does it; you don't have to have the infection continuously. Even vaccination with dead bacteria will do it.

This suggests that depression is like allergies: it's a disorder you get if you don't have enough minor infections in childhood.

Clean-living modern people develop allergies because the immune system doesn't get enough practice fighting its real enemies; after a while it starts fighting things that aren't enemies, such as dust or foods. Likewise, it now appears that the human brain is designed to work better if you've been exposed to Mycobacterium vaccae than if you haven't. More details here.

One way of interpreting the experimental results [my interpretation, not the authors'] is that the body's mechanism for judging whether you're sick or well is serotonin-based and gets out of calibration if it hasn't had a good fight with Mycobacterium in a long time. On such an interpretation, the essence of depression is that you feel sick when you aren't, and since there are no physical symptoms, you interpret it as sadness rather than illness.

If others can replicate the results, this treatment will probably be in clinical use quite soon, because it is already known that Mycobacterium vaccae is safe to give to humans. The vaccine has been used experimentally in an attempt to raise the body's resistance to cancer and as a not-too-successful asthma treatment.

The bottom line? We weren't designed to live germ-free.

Astrophotography on film

On December 15, just before selling my Nikon 180-mm f/2.8 ED IF AF lens, I took it for a "farewell cruise" at a dark-sky location, using Elite Chrome 200 film.

Below is a 12-minute exposure of the North America Nebula, digitally processed with MaxIm DL.

North America Nebula
Click to enlarge

Nikon lens grand finale

The last three pictures taken with the 180/2.8 lens were 10-minute exposures of southern Orion, two at f/4 and one at f/2.8. Here you see them digitally combined.

North America Nebula
Click to enlarge

This is a picture I have always wanted to take, and I've taken many that were approximations to it. The bright blob at the lower right is the Orion Nebula. Just left of center you see the star Zeta Orionis with several nebulae near it; the dark notch in one of them is the Horsehead. At the upper left is part of Barnard's Loop. View the image enlarged, and you'll see that one of the white stars in the upper left area is actually a comet-shaped object, the reflection nebula M78.

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Film photography isn't dead yet

It took me from December to March to run a roll of Elite Chrome 200 through my trusty Nikon F3. Here's a picture I snapped in my front yard in December, some backlit leaves. (Leaves that seem to glow are one of my favorite subjects.)

Glowing leaves

Tomorrow: some astronomical pictures from the same roll of film.

Comet Lovejoy, discovered with Canon DSLR
But is it green?

Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy has discovered a comet using a Canon DSLR camera. Currently south of the equator, the comet is moving into the northern sky but will only be visible with a telescope. Coordinates here; expect more links, with maps, in a few days.

What puzzles me is that the news media are saying the comet is green. It looks to me as if it's the same color as almost any comet photographed with the same camera. Compare Lovejoy's picture to my picture of Comet Machholz under similar circumstances (see also this).

DSLRs are sensitive to a blue-green region of the spectrum that color film doesn't pick up very well. That's why they also produce pictures of blue nebulae that we thought were red. Green comets, too. Admittedly, other comets come out white, so I don't entirely understand what's going one.

Student loans: ticket to poverty?

Now that the subprime-mortgage scandal is winding down, I think the next overlending crisis is going to involve student loans. Plenty of people are eager to lend students more money than they can ever pay back. Apparently as a result, private-college tuition costs are skyrocketing. And in ten years, the next generation of yuppies is going to be hurting.

Even bankruptcy doesn't get you out of paying back student loans. That's why they're such a good deal for the lender, and such a risk for the student.

Associated with this is a mentality that the only college worth attending is the one that almost won't admit you. I tell students every day that this is bad advice. You shouldn't want to be the weakest student in the college.

And it won't ruin your whole life if your diploma says State University rather than Harvard. Studies have shown that, except for professional scholars, it almost doesn't matter at all where you got your degree. We are no longer a small country with only a few good colleges. Almost all of them are reasonably good, if they offer what you need.

I would go further. The prestige of a college depends on how good it was 50 years ago; the quality depends on how good it is now. Unless you're going to enter college by time machine, you should be looking at present quality, not past laurels. Then, take it upon yourself to get a good education when you get there, even if others are wasting their time partying.

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Feast Day of the Resurrection of Our Lord

Behold, He is risen!

Here you see Melody, back in 1977, installing, at the University of Georgia Baptist Center, a banner she made that is based loosely on Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim altarpiece.

We wish all of you a blessed Easter!


Delta episode continued

Further to yesterday's incident, I'm wondering if outsourcing customer service to India has backfired on Delta Air Lines in a sad way. The workers in India were helpful and cooperative. The problem was with the supervisors back in Atlanta. I wonder if they felt that they no longer need to care about customers because it's all been outsourced.

(A correspondent points out a much more obvious explanation. Delta has been in bankruptcy for six months, and most of its best employees have departed. Those remaining are the ones who are inept or have bad attitudes. The service bureau in India, on the other hand, isn't affected by the bankruptcy.)

Before the incident was over, Delta found yet another way to inconvenience me. I had to take a phone call at 11:55 p.m. Thursday night to tell the delivery company that my office is not open at night (which I had already told Delta when they were arranging delivery). The waylaid poster finally reached me at 4 p.m. yesterday (Friday).

Will Delta Air Lines actually emerge from bankruptcy as scheduled at the end of this month? Right now they seem to be acting as if they don't expect to. How could such a good airline deteriorate so severely in so short a time?


Microsoft has an excellent (though sparse) blog about typography and font design. Note especially the ClearType tuner for optimizing the antialiasing of type on your screen.

Our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was not only a statesman and lawyer; he was also a gadgeteer. His only patented invention was an inflatable-pontoon contrivance for getting boats unstuck from shoals.

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Today is Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus.

A scientist who believes in God

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, is a Christian with views similar to my own. His personal testimony made the front page of CNN.com yesterday.

CNN published some replies, indicating that some people thought he turned to Christ purely out of an irrational, emotional need. I don't think so. I think that he was trying to indicate, very quickly and in simple words, the intellectual inadequacy of the atheistic two-story worldview, in which everything that isn't mathematics, physics, or chemistry has to be viewed as ultimately meaningless, including the satisfaction of scientific discovery itself.

Serious disappointment with Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is officially in bankruptcy and apparently not eager to get out.

My lost poster has been found in the Atlanta Airport, but it took three hours of arguing on the telephone before Delta Air Lines would agree to have it delivered to me. It's a 2-hour drive from here to the airport, so I wasn't willing to just hop in the car and go get it.

I had imagined that, upon finding an unclaimed item of checked baggage with my name, address, and phone number prominently marked on it, the airline might contact me. No such luck.

Instead they waited until I phoned them this afternoon; my fax to them on Tuesday morning had yielded no result.

Then they told me that, by leaving the airport without reporting it missing, I had forfeited my right to have my baggage delivered. Nonsense. On Sunday night, they were having a baggage-handling meltdown. If I'd waited in the long line to report it missing, I would have missed my ground transportation and had to spend the night in the airport. They gave me a phone number to call, but it was no help; it would only serve people who already had a file number to key in. So I reported the lost baggage by fax the next morning, less than 24 hours after the loss. Apparently that wasn't good enough for them.

Now wait a minute. They delayed my baggage. Or in one version of their story, they didn't; I just didn't stay in the airport long enough to get it. It was either 1 hour late or 4 days late depending on which Delta agent you ask. All I know is that it didn't come in with the rest of the baggage from the flight, and they told me at the time that it was apparently lost.

Now they want to penalize me for not filling out forms in the exact manner specified by their bureaucracy.

Delta used to be a good airline. But dealing with them today, I saw no eagerness to please the customer. Indeed, at one point today a clerk hung up on me rudely while I was trying to arrange to pay the cost of delivering the lost item to Athens!

To add absurdity to injury and insult, their last request, when they called me to arrange delivery, was that I should go to my office around midnight to meet the truck. Nonsense again. They finally consented to put the item on a later truck so that it will arrive during business hours.

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Short notes

Reincarnated restaurant: One of my favorite Mexican restaurants, the late lamented Compadres of Athens, Georgia, has been reincarnated as Cactus Café in Watkinsville. Yum!

Girls gone weird: The campus newspaper reports this display of obnoxious drunken behavior by the members of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority: "One girl was so drunk on the [45-minute] bus ride to Greensboro [before a formal dinner] she threw up three times... Girls were urinating in cups and bottles, then throwing them out the bus windows."

The consequence? Campus Transit will no longer charter buses for sororities or fraternities.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to say, wait a minute. Non-sorority-members get arrested for acting like that. Giving the whole fraternity-sorority system a slap on the wrist is the wrong move. Individuals need to be singled out.

Update: The Athens newspaper has picked up the story, with more details (especially that problems of this kind have been recurrent) and the campus newspaper is also pursuing it. It looks like we have a rip-roaring scandal, which I'm not going to continue following in this Notebook. But I feel very strongly that members of fraternities and sororities should not be shielded from the consequences of their actions.

What not to blog: Here is a nice piece by Jeff Duntemann about what not to put on your web site. Lots of younger people are telling the world about their wild carousings, assuming their potential employers will never know.

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New fonts

New fonts

Just a quick note: Everybody who uses Windows 2000 or XP should download and install the Microsoft Office 2007 file converters. Besides enabling earlier versions of Word, Excel, etc., to interoperate with Office 2007's XML-based file formats, this package also gives you some nice new fonts of which you see samples above. Each has a bold, italic, and bold italic version. As I understand it, they were commissioned by Microsoft for Windows Vista.

Consolas, in particular, is good for program listings. It's much nicer than Courier, which was designed for IBM typewriters in the 1960s and relied on the typewriter ribbon to thicken it up.

I want to thank graduate student Cody Boisclair for pointing these out to me. If you like them, you may also like the Bitstream Vera fonts, which are freeware, billed as for Linux but also compatible with Windows. To install them, download the ZIP file, unzip it, open Control Panel, and drag the .ttf files into the Fonts folder.


I was right: Changing the date of Daylight Saving Time did not save any energy. Maybe Daylight Saving Time itself doesn't save energy. In fact, a few years ago we were hearing that we needed DST because of the "outdoor recreation industry." That means more consumption of energy, doesn't it?

Tech triumph: A heart valve grown from stem cells that did not involve destroying a human embryo. (Folks, despite the confusion in the mass media, Christians do not object to stem cell research. We object to chopping up human embryos, which is apparently not the best way to get stem cells anyhow.)

Should have been a hoax, but wasn't: This scheme to use radio waves to transmit electric power, several watts or more at a time, so that you don't have to plug in your gadgets. If we're even slightly worried about hazards from cell phone emissions, we ought to be a lot more worried about this because it involves much stronger radiation. It also looks like a good way to wipe out radio reception and kill off AM and FM forever.

48 hours and my luggage (just the poster in its carrier) is still lost, even though it's prominently marked with my name and address. Probably time to call the airline.

Someone left me a phone message this morning (Apr. 3) to recommend a book about the power of the Internet. Hmmm... So why didn't he e-mail?

This Notebook has been ridiculously popular lately (about 250 hits per day). So has my fountain pen page, which carries Google Ads. What's going on? Why is the world beating a path to my door?

Work crunch: I am expecting to be extremely busy from now until mid-May as the semester draws to a close. Please don't expect quick responses to communications. Thanks for your patience.
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The beginning of the end of DRM

If this had been datelined one day earlier, I would have thought it was a hoax, but it's real: iTunes is going to sell digital music files without DRM (that is, without copy protection) for just 30% more than the cost of the protected versions. Poll results indicate that this is an overwhelmingly popular decision.

At last, a glimmer of sanity! The recorded music industry has a long record of being totally out of touch with what the customers actually want. But this time they've made a good decision.

The music is still subject to copyright law, of course; it's illegal to redistribute it. But they're not doing anything to keep you from copying it to other formats for your own use.

I don't know if they're going to put in an encrypted signature that indicates how and when they sold it to you. That would be reasonable; it would enable them to catch the professional pirates. But the important thing is, they're not going to prevent us from copying and preserving what we've already bought.

As icing on the cake, the new-style "premium" music files will also have higher audio quality (less compression). Bravo!

A while back Melody had a disk crash and some music vendors expected her to buy all her DRMed music a second time. Unacceptable. I can tolerate online rights-management (such as Windows authentication) if the product is a relatively big-ticket item and I need the manufacturer's ongoing support anyhow and the manufacturer can be trusted not to disappear or lose track of me. In fact, I remember when almost all mainframe software worked this way. But a $1 music file does not fall in this category. Buying it should be like buying a book.

Lost luggage

At ICOSR, Congzhou and I exhibited a 3-by-5-foot poster of research results. I have (or used to have!) a sturdy homemade carrier for posters, made of PVC pipe.

In Colorado Springs, I put the poster in the carrier and checked it as baggage on the flight home.

Well... When I arrived in Atlanta late Sunday night, it didn't turn up. Slightly more than an hour after the flight landed, I had to get on the shuttle to Athens; the airline wanted me to either continue waiting for it, or go stand in a long line to report it lost, neither of which I did. Instead, I faxed the claim forms to Delta the following morning.

The poster carrier is very prominently labeled with my name, work address, and telephone numbers, so I would have expected to hear about it by now. So far, 24 hours and no news.

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Pike's pique

Pike's Peak

If I were Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), I'd want the apostrophe put back into the official name of Pike's Peak. The current name, Pikes Peak, sounds as if the mountain is named after someone called Pikes, not Pike.

Back in 1891 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names recommended taking the apostrophe out because they objected to punctuation marks in names. (Presumably, an apostrophe on a map would be mistaken for a small mark with some other meaning.) In 1978, the Colorado Legislature made the change mandatory. I think that was a mistake. Yes, confine yourself to the 26 letters when labeling maps, but let us use the apostrophe when we're writing normal English.

Pike's Peak, incidentally, is the purple mountain majesty that you heard about in the song.

Report from ICOSR, Colorado Springs

Mountains near Colorado Springs

The alert reader will surmise that I must be in Colorado. That's right. My former graduate student Congzhou He and I are presenting this research at the International Congress on Schizophrenia Research.

This picture was taken on the grounds of the conference site, the Broadmoor Resort. I leave it to you to find out what "Broadmoor" means to a British psychiatrist... Not at all the same thing.

While at the conference, I learned that this Daily Notebook is read by eminent psychiatrists in at least two countries — whether for entertainment or as an object of study, I'm not quite sure.

So what's new in brain science? Here are a few things that caught my eye:

  • Cognitive remediation is big. That is, patients can be trained to "think their way around" their symptoms (e.g., to recognize paranoid thoughts as unfounded), and more generally to rebuild mental skills that the disease has eroded.

    The great advantage of cognitive remediation is that, unlike drugs or even Freudian analysis, it can't possibly do any harm. At worst, you give the patient some useful mental exercise that doesn't happen to score a direct hit on his particular problem. You're not going to upset his body chemistry or reopen old psychological wounds.

    On a related note, Aaron Beck's cognitive treatment for depression made it onto the cover of this week's Forbes Magazine. Psychotherapy today is a lot different from what it was in Freud's time.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (using electromagnets) is also big. It has produced relief of symptoms in patients who hadn't responded to medication. It's relatively safe.
  • Two or three papers reported that cannabis (marijuana) can cause loss of brain tissue. We're waiting for more research on that one. But every year, cannabis turns out to be more harmful than anybody thought even a year ago. But at least — according to another paper presented here — the deleterious effects of cannabis and methamphetamine somewhat counteract each other.

Abstracts of the entire conference are in the current (March 2007) issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Yale University Quarter-century mark

On April 2, 1982, I finished my Ph.D.; that is, that's the day I left Yale, having stayed an extra day to avoid finishing on April Fool's Day. That was 25 years ago today.

Sebastian Shaumyan, linguist

And I've just received word of the death of a Yale professor for whom I had been a teaching assistant, Sebastian Shaumyan, at the age of 90.

Before 1960, Shaumyan was practically the only person other than Chomsky who tried to make mathematical models of human sentence structure. His "applicative grammar" contained a number of unique insights.

More to the point, Professor Shaumyan had a deep respect for his own students — a quality often lacking in the competitive Northeast. He was well-liked and will be missed.

A few more Colorado notes

Canon City

So where's Nikon city, then?

Actually, the sign should say Cañon City. Presumably the tilde was taken by the same thief who got Pike's apostrophe.

One other curiosity of the visit was the triboelectric bed. My pajamas, the sheets, and the low humidity conspired to produce hundreds of miniature, silent lightning bolts (1 to 5 cm long) every time I moved during the night. Quite a show! If I'd brought a better camera I would have tried to photograph it.

Recommended Colorado Springs restaurants: Hunan Springs (good Chinese food, downtown); also (don't laugh) Cantina Azul near Gate 6 in the airport (excellent chicken burrito).

By the time you read this, I'll be back home in Georgia, and probably too busy to write anything for days to come.

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