Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Adjunct Professor of Computer Science
Associate Director
Artificial Intelligence Center
The University of Georgia
This is a private web page not hosted or sponsored by the University.

E-mail (important messages only):
(University business only)
(all other messages)

About this notebook
Site search

Daily Notebook

Copyright 2004 Michael A. Covington. Caching by search engines is explicitly permitted.
To go to the latest entry every day, bookmark http://www.covingtoninnovations.com/michael/blog.

If you don't see what you came here for, please scroll down
(there are many topics on this page)
or look at previous months.


The photo industry's once-every-2-years trade show, Photokina (or as purists write it, photokina), is under way in Germany. Daily news updates are here (in English) and here (in French, about a day earlier because the French have a better network of spies).

The question, of course, is whether film photography is still alive, and whether digital photography has finished coming of age.

The digital product to drool over is Mamiya's $15,000, 21.5-megapixel medium-format digital SLR. With that many pixels, image quality will definitely depend on the lens, not the CCD sensor. (Note: It's 4.5 x 6 cm, not inches. Big, but not as big as some versions of the story say.)

As for film photography (photographie argentique), Ilford is (fortunately) still in business (though in what the British call receivership and the French call depôt de bilan), and Zeiss has introduced a Leica clone, complete with rangefinder body and several new lenses. (Why? I think they're plotting a digital version of the same camera.)

Proud to be a "guy in pajamas"

CBS doesn't like people like me.

Their executive Jonathan Klein has been quoted in multiple places saying something like, "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [in professional journalism] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."

He's trying to discredit the widespread independent analysis of the fake National Guard memos on the Internet by people who don't work for the Big Media.

Since we happened to get the facts right when CBS didn't, all CBS can do is assail our credibility.

What's really going on is that the Big Media are accustomed to controlling everyone's access to news, and they really don't like independent communication between free individuals.

As for "checks and balances," I have to obey the same laws (about slander, libel, etc.) that the big media do, and besides, nobody has to read my stuff at all.

Dan Rather himself has reportedly tried to stigmatize bloggers as political conspirators. Me? A political conspirator? Only if you consider everybody who disagrees with you a conspirator. A "vast right-wing" conspirator, no doubt. That's the currently fashionable kind of paranoia.

It's not necessarily a conspiracy when the same facts lead different people to the same conclusions.

To put it bluntly: The reason a lot of people are saying those documents are fake is that to all appearances, they are fake.

Happy Michaelmas (Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel, Sept. 29). He's not part of a political conspiracy either.


Yet another hurricane. Track it here.

The Ada programming language - a souped-up Pascal-like language promoted by the Department of Defense in the 1980s - is apparently alive and well and has been adapted for .NET Framework under the name A# (A-sharp), available here. The compiler is free, comes from the Air Force Academy, and works with Visual Studio .NET.

I have a bone to pick with eBay. If you click here. and ask to see the record of covington-innovations, you'll see that only one person has ever left me negative feedback - and he followed up immediately with a comment explaining that it was a mistake; the feedback was intended for someone else.

I've asked eBay to remove the negative feedback from my score. If they would do so, I'd have a perfect 100%.

They refuse. They say they are not responsible for feedback or comments posted by individual customers.

To this I respond that although the comments were posted by a third party (who immediately followed up with a retraction), the score is computed and published by eBay itself, so eBay is culpable for knowingly using false information to compute it.

eBay's reason for not removing it? "That's our policy."

What, exactly, are they defending? Everyone agrees that the feedback was posted erroneously. Apparently, even eBay management recognizes this. But "policy" reigns supreme.

If their "policy" is to make a mistake, nothing can stop them!

Ah well. Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by corporate policy. That's what Napoleon would have said if he had lived about two centuries later.

The origin of Hanlon's Razor?

One of the familiar quotes of my generation, the first generation of computer geeks, is often called "Hanlon's Razor" although its origin is obscure. It says:

Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
What little is known about its origin is summarized here. "Hanlon" has never been identified.

But I've found a couple more clues.

First: Napoleon reportedly said:

Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.
I have not traced this to its source.

Second, C. S. Lewis wrote to Don Giovanni Calabria, on August 10, 1948, the following words:

Caritas nihil malitiae imputat quod potest ex simplici stultitia et ignorantia evenire.
That is (in my translation):
Christian love does not attribute anything to malice that can result from mere foolishness and ignorance.
(Calabria was a Catholic priest who founded an institution for helping the poor; he has been beatified and is a candidate for sainthood.)

Lewis may well have been paraphrasing an ancient or medieval Latin writer - so the hunt is still on; the real source of Hanlon's Razor may be ancient.

(Why should a quote be called a "razor"? In imitation of the principle called "Ockham's Razor" which shaves the fuzz off of theories: "Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity." That is, "Don't make anything more complicated than it needs to be." William of Ockham first said this some time in the mid-1300s.)

The old neighborhood

Just how old am I? Well, here's a picture of a place I used to hang out as a boy. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

I hasten to add that I'm not quite as old as the picture. The picture is from a postcard dated about 1915. I, on the other hand, was there at the beginning of the 1970s.

The school in the foreground, originally Valdosta High School, was later an elementary school and eventually the first building used by Valwood School from 1969 to 1973; I was a student there from 1970 to 1973.

It was torn down around 1974. A brick from it is in my living room, doing service as a bookend.

The First Baptist Church, in the background, is where I was baptized in 1968. Across the street from it, in a row of storefronts that hadn't been built yet in the picture, was the Credit Bureau of Athens, where my mother worked. My father's office was up Patterson Street, ahead and to your left several blocks.

Valdosta history buffs who find this page will also want to read about Valdosta's infamous 1902 elephant rampage.

Pelted with chicken bones

While standing outside near the School of Art this afternoon, Cathy found herself being pelted with chicken bones by an unknown assailant.

It turned out to be a squirrel that had found someone's leftover chicken and carried it up into a tree.

Truly, the campus a few days after a football game is a strange place.

Exava.com, what art thou?

For the past two weeks, there has been very heavy use of my web site from addresses of the form 64.124.25.*.

It turns out that this is apparently the new Exava shopping search engine, whatever that is.

The question is, why do they need to read my web site so much more than Google or Yahoo does?

And have they noticed that I don't have anything for sale directly to shoppers? Maybe I should...

(In case you're wondering, the one on the list that isn't Exava is me. For internal purposes I use my own web site a lot.)

A victory for the new media

Now that it is generally acknowledged that CBS's Bush National Guard memos are fake, Peggy Noonan made an interesting observation on TV tonight:

This is a victory for new media (bloggers) over old media (centrally controlled TV).

As I've said many times before, Hollywood and Madison Avenue no longer control our minds. The Internet is, I would contend, the most powerful force for democracy since the printing press.

If you'd like to see still more technical analysis of the documents, see this page by Jeff Harrell. The IBM Selectric Composer has been ruled out, so we are left with the conclusion that no office machine of the 1970s could possibly have produced the memos.

Farewell to Technical Pan Film

Astrophotographers will note with sadness that Kodak is discontinuing Technical Pan Film. For more about what this means to astronomers, see Sky and Telescope's brief report.

Kodak introduced Technical Pan (formerly 2415, formerly SO-115) in 1977 as a replacement for High Contrast Copy and other super-fine-grained high-contrast black-and-white films. Designed for scientific work and copying of line art, it had rather high contrast (though not as high as litho film), extraordinarily fine grain, and a strong response to deep red light, including the 656-nm emissions from hydrogen nebulae.

Astrophotographers adopted it immediately for planetary work (where its elevated contrast and fine grain were welcome) and quickly discovered that although it was slow, it produced beautiful pictures of stars and nebulae; 35-mm photographs looked like big plates from observatories. Then they discovered that baking it in hydrogen ("hypering") would greatly increase its sensitivity and cure reciprocity failure (the fall-off in film sensitivity that occurs at very low light levels).

Amateur astrophotography entered a new era. You could take pictures with a 35-mm camera that looked just like big plate images from large observatories. The strong red sensitivity brought out nebulae that hadn't shown up on conventional film. And by using a deep red filter, you could even photograph faint celestial objects through the bright suburban sky, because streetlights don't emit in the 600-700 nm region.

Observatories used it, too. Technical Pan was available in 120 rolls, sheet film, and coated on glass plates.

Fine-art photographers also got into the act. By using a special low-contrast developer called POTA (originally developed by astronomers), and later a Kodak product called Technidol, you could get the contrast down low enough to match ordinary film. The resulting pictures were beautiful although the film speed was only the equivalent of ISO 16 to 25.

I never used a lot of Technical Pan myself, because I was more interested in color slides, but my astrophotography book contains some excellent Technical Pan pictures by Jerry Lodriguss (who himself has also moved on to color imaging).

In fact I probably haven't bought a roll of Technical Pan in ten years... and now they've discontinued it.

This is important because there is no substitute. It's not like the loss of Kodachrome 25, which faced heavy competition from other slide films. There is nothing like Technical Pan at all. That is, there are things you can do with a camera now, that you will not be able to do next year. That's sad.

It's also probably the end of the hydrogen hypersensitization era. Other films benefit from hypering only modestly, if at all. Although I sometimes bought hypered film ready-made, I never hypered my own, and apparently now I never will.

Fake anti-spyware, anti-virus software

Don't run a program from an unknown source that promises to remove spyware or viruses from your computer. It may be something malicious. Many of them are apparently modified copies of Spybot Search & Destroy (a fine product) with something malicious added. Here is more information about the problem.

More generally, Never click on a pop-up ad that promises to do something to your computer. And never click "OK" if software asks for permission to do something you don't understand.

(Thanks to Jeff Duntemann for the tip.)

Quote for the day

"The object of opening the mind,
as of opening the mouth,
is to shut it again on something solid."

                                    - G. K. Chesterton

Book of the day (along related lines): True Truth, by Art Lindsley.

(A triple-header for today, since there probably won't be much added here in the next few days. I'm clearing the stack of things I was going to write about.)

Star fields for animators

When you see an animation of a spaceship, it's always passing in front of a star field such as the one in the picture here. And these star fields aren't very much like the real sky.

This fact came to my attention because Cathy is taking a computer animation course and needed star fields to use as backgrounds.

Naturally, as an astrophotographer, I have thousands of pictures of star fields. But guess what? The real sky has lots of things in it - star clusters, bright star patterns, nebulae, galaxies - that make it unsuitable to use as a background.

I constructed this background by taking a picture of nebulae in Cepheus and processing it so that the nebulae don't show up. I can supply other star fields for use as backgrounds; if you need them, please contact me.

Home movies

A couple of weeks ago, Melody's parents, Jim and Eleanor Mauldin, gave me this vintage 1960 (?) 8-mm movie camera, which they found in an antique store. It is powered by a hand crank and appears to work perfectly, but the film for it ("double-8") is no longer made, as far as I can tell.

In the 1970s, home video replaced home movies. And this changed the nature of the medium.

Crucially, home movies are short. Film is expensive, and even if you can afford a lot of it, 8-mm film gives you only about 3 minutes of movie per roll, in two 1 1/2-minute halves (you have to flip the roll over).

This means that a home movie of a wedding was typically about 60 seconds of the bride and groom walking out of the church.

Contrast this with a videotape of a wedding - which is likely to comprise 45 minutes of organ music, people lighting candles, and so forth.

The key idea is that home movies were concise. In order to tell a story on 8-mm film, you had to shorten it. In fact, the medium was so restrictive that people who actually wanted to tell stories usually made slide shows rather than home movies. But at least you had an incentive not to bore people.

Not so after the advent of cheap video recording.

I must confess to being guilty, myself, of making videos of my children that have never been played back.

What we need, of course - and what we'll have in another five years - is cheap and easy video editing on our personal computers. Then we'll dig out these old videos, edit them, and put together the best scenes for easy viewing.

Or at least we'll have the ability to do so. First I have to deal with an 8-mm home movie reel, begun by my father in 1965 and finished by me in 1969, that has never been viewed or projected. Maybe I can get it transferred to DVD.

Cathy's quick cat rescue

If you live very close to us, this may be your cat.

It had been hanging around our yard for weeks, so Cathy decided to rescue it. She rented a trap from the Humane Society and quickly trapped the cat. But the usual tactic of putting the trap in the bushes didn't work; the cat wouldn't walk into it until she put it in the middle of the patio, with a towel over it.

She wanted to know whether it was a feral cat or a tame one, and whether it posed a hazard to our dog or other nearby pets. (There has been rabies in the area.)

It turns out to be a healthy former pet, now accustomed to living in the wild, and a neighbor who has several outdoor cats is going to give it a home.

Unless, of course, the owner recognizes it and claims it!

[Minor revisions Sept. 19.]

Disk and Crossbones winner: The Sims 2

It's time to bestow the first Disk and Crossbones Award for Unwise Copy Protection.

The "Disk and Crossbones" was first discussed at a PC Tech Journal authors' dinner in the late 1980s. At the time, a lot of PC software still came on copy-protected (uncopyable) diskettes to prevent piracy. This was absolutely fatal to anybody who had a 3.5-inch drive and got software on a 5 1/4-inch diskette, or vice versa. So we talked about adding an icon, the "disk and crossbones," to the published review of any software whose copy protection would interfere with use.

I'm against piracy, but I'm also against anything that keeps people from using software that is properly licensed to them. Copyright law says you can make a backup copy of anything you legally possess. Copy protection says you can't.

The first Disk and Crossbones Award goes to The Sims 2, which refuses to run on any machine that has certain CD-copying packages installed.

And I don't mean nefarious hacker tools. I mean commonplace CD-burning software such as Nero, which comes with many CD-R drives and even comes factory-installed on some PCs.

This peculiarity of The Sims 2 is discussed here (by the manufacturer) and here (by an irate group of users). As one of the latter points out, This is the only copy protection in the world that targets other legal software installed on the machine for completely separate purposes!

Purportedly, with The Sims 2, there really is a technical incompatibility with drivers used by Nero. I don't entirely believe this, because there are reports that merely de-installing or deactivating Nero won't fix the problem. One user actually had to remove every trace of Nero from his Registry by hand.

Copy protection is always incompatible with hardware and operating systems in unforeseen ways. Yesterday the 3.5-inch diskette, today the latest generation of CD-ROM support.

[Thanks to Sharon for both the news tip and the Disk and Crossbones logo.]

Hurricane Ivan's toll

The University of Georgia may have suffered a hurricane fatality. The Athens Banner-Herald reports that a group of students went exploring on the flooded Oconee River in a small boat yesterday afternoon, and after it capsized, one of them, Alicia Stramiello (whom I do not know personally), could not be found by rescuers. We are praying for her safe recovery, but she's been missing over 24 hours now.

The boaters do not seem to have realized that the flood would continue to increase after the storm subsided.

Reportedly, we had 80 roads blocked by trees and utility lines down in 111 places, all in Georgia's smallest county.

On a lighter note, we may soon have a large population of feral chickens. The same paper reports that as many as a quarter of a million chickens may have escaped from chickenhouses destroyed by the storm. Mass-production chicken farming is a major industry a few counties north of here.

The first cone speaker

Returning to the antiquarian electronics theme of recent days, Doug Downing sends along this interesting link about the inventor of cone speakers. Recall that the very earliest radio speakers consisted of a mechanism like an earphone, with a small vibrating membrane, feeding a large horn. Cone speakers - the only kind we have today - vibrate a paper or (nowadays) plastic cone of appreciable size.

NeoChanger disappointment

Recently I bought Cathy an SSI NeoChanger to replace the inoperative CD changer in her 1996 Ford Taurus.

The NeoChanger replaces the existing CD changer in numerous models of cars, works with the original control head, and plays MP3s as well as audio CDs. Or so the ad says.

I ordered one for a 1996 Ford Taurus; they sent one for a 1996 Ford Taurus (or so they thought); and it didn't fit the cable in the 1996 Ford Taurus, and they don't make one that does.

They're giving me a refund, but I think that because the mistake was 100% theirs, they should also pay for the return shipping. They've already wasted my time.

I may not write much here for the next several days. We're behind with our work due to the hurricane.


What's left of Hurricane Ivan passed over us yesterday afternoon, producing tornadoes, high winds, and torrential rain.

The Artificial Intelligence Center is on the ground floor of its building, and the corridors outside it are the evacuation point for the entire building.

Around 2:30 p.m. we heard sirens and tried without success to find out what they meant. It was a tornado warning, but neither NOAA weather radio nor the local radio stations (as far as we could tell) would tell us about it.

The day's dubious achievement award goes to radio station WGAU, which apparently wouldn't interrupt Rush Limbaugh to warn us of an approaching tornado. Maybe they think conservatives deserve to be blown away...

Meanwhile, people heard the sirens, evacuated the rest of the building, and congregated in our halls. Eventually, one of our graduate students found the particulars of the warning on The Weather Channel.

Conveying the information to the crowd was a problem. Like elementary-school children, they claimed to be eager for information but wouldn't stop chattering in order to hear any. (I've noticed the same phenomenon on previous occasions.) Eventually we laser-printed several copies of the warning and simply handed them out!

We got word (via "Magic 102.1 FM" - don't stations have call letters any more?) that a tornado had touched down just a mile south of us.

Around 3:15 p.m. we were given clearance to go back into our offices, but around 4 p.m, due to ongoing wind damage, the University closed and people were sent home.

Today the University is still closed. The damage is coming mainly from trees falling on power lines and across roads, and as I write this (11 a.m.) new damage is continuing to be reported, even though the rain has stopped.

More about Greek-letter societies

I haven't been able to reach "Di Gamma Kappa" [sic] by e-mail and suspect that this small organization has lost its own historical records. It is apparently for journalism students. Although I don't understand its approach to the Greek language, I wish it well.

As many of you know, there are three major kinds of Greek-letter organizations at American universities. The granddaddy of them all is Phi Beta Kappa, founded 1776, of which I am proud to be a member. It's an academic honor society. Membership is awarded to the top students. There are several other Greek-letter honor societies.

There are also societies of students who are planning to go into particular professions. That's how "Di Gamma Kappa" describes itself. On most campuses, these exist but are not very prominent.

The third, and by far most prominent, kind consists of social fraternities and sororities. ("Drinking societies" as a British friend of mine concisely put it.) I don't like them; they seem to be based on an idea I find morally repugnant, which is the notion that groups of friends have the right to organize to exclude, by formal action, people they want to look down on.

But where do they get their Greek letters?

As I mentioned yesterday, Phi Beta Kappa stands for philosophia biou kybernetes, which is Greek for "philosophy, life's guide." Other honor societies have similar Greek mottos and abbreviations.

The others, I'm not so sure about. On the crest of a fraternity or sorority, if you see any Greek words written out, they are usually just the names of the letters, spelled out.

It's as if you called yourself "J. B." and then said your full name was "Jay Bee."

In Greek, all of the letters of the alphabet can be spelled out this way, and people do. Here is a familiar example (Sigma Alpha Epsilon). Scroll down to the bottom, and the Greek words are just names of letters.

Maybe the social fraternities have Greek mottoes and keep them secret. Or do they not know as much Greek as they want to let on?

Oddity of the day

We have a student organization that calls itself (as of today) "Di Gamma Kappa."

There is no Greek letter called di.

There was a preclassical letter - not in the official Greek alphabet - called digamma, and that's presumably what they meant. It looked like an F, i.e., a doubled-up gamma (hence the name), and had the sound of English W.

The Romans kept it and made it into F, but the Greeks dropped it when they standardized their alphabet in 403 B.C.

Normally, the letters of a Greek-letter society stand for the initials of its motto, in Greek. For example, Phi Beta Kappa stands for philosophia biou kybernetes "philosophy, life's guide."

But Greek dictionaries do not normally show the letter digamma; I've never seen one that did.

So what does the digamma in "Digamma Kappa" stand for?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Want to see the Northern Lights?

Displays of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) can now be predicted a day or two in advance through satellite observations of matter ejected from the sun.

You can see a real-time chart of current auroral activity here. When the red area on the chart gets within 1000 miles of you, start looking for an aurora.

Last October, the red area on the chart briefly got as far south as Pennsylvania, and we had a fine auroral display in Georgia (see the picture), which is so far south that auroras are very rare.

I mention this because there was apparently some chance of seeing an aurora in Georgia last night, but I wasn't able to go out into the country to look for it.

For more about auroras, see Spaceweather.com.

A UNIX for the rest of us

Microsoft Windows Services for UNIX (SFU) is now a free download, albeit a large one (220 MB).

This rather interesting product gives you a UNIX environment for Windows 2000/XP/2003 (Professional or Server, not Home).

It's not Linux running in a box under Windows. It's a UNIX shell for Windows itself, bought by Microsoft from Interix.

As you can see from the picture, it includes gcc and compiles and runs programs with UNIX system calls. But it runs them natively, in the POSIX subsystem of Windows.

You didn't know there was a POSIX subsystem? Admittedly it's an add-on, but there's also a DOS subsystem, which you've surely seen; a Win16 subsystem for running old Windows programs; and a rarely used OS/2 subsystem.

I haven't really put SFU through its paces yet, but I plan to. Its main use will be running UNIX software that includes lots of shell scripts, sed, awk, and the like. Porting to SFU should be no harder than porting to a new flavor of UNIX.

SFU will also be popular with people who are adept at using powerful techniques from the UNIX command line, and who want to do the same thing under UNIX.

Note that SFU gives you access to the whole Windows filesystem using UNIX file name syntax. For example,
/dev/fs/C/Documents and Settings/blah/blither
is what Windows users know as
C:\Documents and Settings\blah\blither.

To run a Windows program under SFU, you can just type its name (such as /dev/fs/C/emacs/emacs.exe). It will expect file name arguments to be written with Windows syntax, of course. There's a translation utility (unixpath2win or somesuch), but I have not yet cobbled together a script to translate all the arguments of a command before execution. This is an obvious thing to do.

Your home directory is the same as in Windows, i.e., normally
C:\Documents and Settings\username.
You can put a .cshrc file there to customize UNIX.

I haven't probed it deeply, but SFU is getting reasonably good reviews. See for example ZDnet UK and OSnews.com. Reportedly, the current version is much better than the previous one.

An afterthought to Nancy Pearcey's talk:

We use to have a name for people who said, "I believe that so-and-so is wrong, but I will not let this belief influence my public acts."

We used to call them hypocrites.

Nowadays, though, that is the position politicians are expected to take.

Star of the day (yes, I mean real star, not movie star): 65 Piscium. This is a nice, symmetrical double star in northern Pisces that I managed to view during a brief interval of relatively thin clouds last night, with my 5-inch telescope at 80x.

According to the calendar on the wall, today is Grandparent's Day.

From the position of the apostrophe, I gather it only belongs to one grandparent.

Which one?

Hurricane Ivan appears at this moment to be heading straight toward me. What am I doing that attracts these things?

A triple-header today to make up for the lack of entries recently. Here goes...

Why I think the Bush National Guard memos are fake

I am apparently one of an army of blog writers who have been questioning the authenticity of the Bush National Guard memos that were "discovered" by CBS a couple of days ago.

Note that I am not saying anything here about Bush himself, only the documents.

My main qualification is that I was familiar with, and interested in, typewriters when I was a high school student in the early 1970s. I did typing for several organizations using special proportional-pitch typewriters as well as more common ones.

The above is a slightly reduced copy of one of the document images as published on the Web by CBS. It is apparently not copyrighted, and even if it were, it would be legal for me to reproduce it here for critical review.

Here are my observations:

  • Even before I reduced it, this was a rather low-resolution scan. As far as I know, CBS has not released images sharp enough to identify the typeface unambiguously.

  • I don't know whether the typeface is Times New Roman, as others have claimed. It is certainly a proportional roman typeface in the Times family.

  • It is dated 1972 (not 1992 - this is perfectly clear on the original, and it is part of a set of documents with similar dates).

  • It is signed. That is, it is being presented as the signed original, not a copy retyped later.

  • The return address at the top is in proportional type, centered.

    Although typewriters with proportional type existed in the 1970s (e.g., IBM Executive), it was very hard to center anything accurately on such a machine, and doing so usually required typing it twice, once on scrap paper to measure the lengths of the lines, and again with the appropriate fractional spaces added on the final copy.

    There were typesetting machines that would do the job semi-automatically, but they were far too expensive for the National Guard to use for casual memos. In fact, even the IBM Executive, with its carbon ribbon, was probably rather pricey for the armed forces. They would use an IBM Selectric (popular and reliable, fixed-pitch) or a lower-technology typewriter.

  • The rest of the document looks hastily typed, not at all like the work of someone who would go to the extra effort of centering the return address perfectly. Note the lack of space after a closing parenthesis.

  • In paragraph 2, but not in the heading, it has a superscript th such as Microsoft Word would automatically insert if you were typing it on a computer today. But there was no such character on any 1970s typewriters that I know of except for some Olympia products that do not much resemble the appearance of the document (and were not American-made, hence not likely to be used by the U.S. Government).

I think this document was created no more than 10 years ago, and probably much more recently than that. The only way to refute this will be to plausibly identify the kind of typewriter used. I do not think any such typewriter existed. I don't even think it was a skillful forgery.

When dog bites man, it's not news, but...

When listing odd news stories yesterday I left out the oddest: Dog shoots man in self-defense. An inspiration to canines everywhere...

Nancy Pearcey versus the two-story worldview

The highlight of yesterday evening was going to a talk by author Nancy Pearcey - and sitting next to her during the preceding dinner. I think there's a reason they put Melody and me at the same table as the Pearceys. Philosophy and epistemology flew through the air at a high speed on our side of the table while everyone else tried to make casual conversation.

Dr. Pearcey's goal was to attack the strange notion that it's OK to have religious beliefs, but only as long as they don't affect anything you do, such as how you judge a difficult ethical issue, or (horrors!) how you vote.

Critics nowadays don't say, "Your religious beliefs are false." That would provoke debate.

Instead they say, "Keep your religion private," as if religion belonged only to your emotional fantasies and had no connection with any kind of facts. Thus they can silence you while pretending to be polite.

Behind this is the longer-standing assumption that there are no moral facts, only tastes ("values," "preferences"). Morality is "whatever works for you" or whatever you can get society to along with.

And behind that, Pearcey argues, is the two-story worldview.

The paradox of modern man is that if you believe the mind is just a mechanical process, a fluke of fundamentally mindless evolution, then everything you care about - truth, beauty, love, and even science itself - is ultimately meaningless. The music of Bach is merely a trick for tickling your brain cells. Your spouse's devotion is merely part of a reproductive instinct. Even your scientific beliefs need not be true; they're just what your evolution-built brain happens to have churned out.

In the two-story worldview, there is a sharp split between things we care about and things that are real:

Truth, beauty, love, morals, ethics Romanticism, idealism, postmodernism Imaginary, ultimately meaningless
Scientific facts Physics, chemistry, biology Real

In public life, this implies that everything on the upper story is simply worthless, and decision-making is just a matter of cajoling other people into going along with you.

Thus people like Christopher Reeve can say that "when matters of public policy are being debated, no religion should have a seat at the table."

I wish Mr. Reeve could have debated, say, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Abraham Lincoln on that point. (Or George Washington or Robert E. Lee. He would have found a remarkable consensus against him.)

But getting back to Pearcey's argument: If you believe in God, you don't have to split the two levels apart. The split - and the futility - come from ignoring where it all comes from. If God is real, and if He created us - either directly, or through a long evolutionary process - then the upper, mental and spiritual, story is real and is connected to the lower, physical level. We have minds because we are made in the image of the Greatest Mind, and the things that we care most about are not imaginary.

As C. S. Lewis put it (and I quote from memory): "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Too busy

I haven't vanished - but haven't had time to write anything here either. We're in the Mid-September Pileup, one of the periods when everybody wants to schedule everything.

Here's my pick of curious news stories this morning (all on news sources that don't requre registration):

I'm puzzled why that last news story says "spamming is legal." Did the CAN-SPAM Act and various state spam laws go away while I wasn't looking?

What Star Trek missed

Did you ever notice that on Star Trek they don't have Google or Yahoo?

I've just seen part of an episode in which two boys were trying to find out what "self-sealing stem bolts" are. All they could do was contact a knowledgable person by radio.

Star Trek was the best thing on TV in the late 1960s, and its several follow-ups are good entertainment, but I don't think Star Trek is the ne plus ultra of drama (nor science, nor philosophy). I think the ancient Stoics would have liked it, since its values are basically the same. I also think many of its plots are just Westerns in funny-looking settings.

The most fictitious thing about Star Trek is the transporter. "Beam me up, Scotty..." Beaming people up has no physical basis. Even if you could build a transporter, how would you aim it so precisely over such great distances?

The transporter is not one of Star Trek's scientific predictions. It's just a dramatic device that they made up so the characters wouldn't have to spend all their time riding around on rockets.

The second most fictitious thing is the way everybody speaks perfect American English, even when halfway across the "galaxy." (In science fiction, a galaxy sometimes seems to be a place about the size of Hawaii.) Why should people who have been separated long enough to evolve different body shapes still be speaking the same language? Again, this is just a dramatic device. Star Trek does acknowledge a few foreign languages, such as Klingon, but not many.

60 GB of disk space, price $0

While installing a new disk drive in Sharon's eMachines computer this evening, we made a startling discovery:

Its 40-GB disk drive was not a 40-GB drive.
It was a Western Digital 100-GB drive
with only the first 40 GB partitioned.

We found this out when we went to My Computer, right-click, Manage, Disk Management. And we immediately partitioned and formatted the rest of the disk (as a separate drive), and it worked fine.

I wonder how many other eMachines computers (or other low-end computers) have disk drives bigger than they claim.

[Note added later: No, it wasn't. The unformatted region was about 60 MB, not 60 GB. Oh well... Nonetheless, I'm told that this kind of thing is fairly common.]

The computer was purchased in the spring of 2002 as part of a Best Buy promotion. To get it at a super-low price, Melody and Sharon got up at 5 a.m. to be first in line. We named the computer EOS, short for Rhododaktylos Eos "Rosy-Fingered Dawn," Homer's epithet for the sunrise. The full name is inscribed, in Greek, on a label on the computer.

When TV repair was high technology

Technology changed ordinary people's lives far more in the 44 years before 1960 than in the 44 years since. Most of the inventions we've developed since 1960 have been faster, cheaper, better ways of doing things we already had in mind. The big revolutions - fast communication, radio, the automobile - came in the first half of the 20th century.

One of them, the last big wave before personal computers, was television. Its role in our culture was important to me in my youth, and it involves some connections that younger people are unaware of.

I don't mean TV programs. I've always rather disliked most of the content of TV. It is, as somebody said about half a century ago, a wasteland.

No; what fascinated me, and fascinated a whole generation of men older than me, was the technology. With television, cutting-edge science came into our homes, or seemed to. After all, TV sets were miniature particle accelerators; they hurled electrons at a coated screen. To understand them, you had to deal with particle physics, not just electrical theory. And the electrical theory itself was formidable. You had subcarriers, multiple methods of modulation, encoding of optical data...

In the mid-1960s, when I was just starting to read about science and technology, TV loomed very large. Magazines such as Radio-TV Experimenter and Radio-Electronics deftly interwove science, basic electronics, radio, and the art of fixing TVs.

The reason is, there was an acute need for TV repair. TV sets were large and unreliable, and some of the repairs - mainly tube changes - were easy do-it-yourself jobs, while others would challenge even the most experienced technician.

Accordingly, TV repair was rather like a video game in which it was easy to get to the first level, but higher levels rose exponentially above it. All popular electronics magazines, regardless of their original intent, contained lots of TV repair articles, and "Fix your own TV" booklets were sold on newsstands.

So, as a youngster, I quickly got the impression that TV was the most important, or at least the most accessible and useful, area of electronics. With my father's encouragement, I devoured the available literature. (Remember, this was a non-academic setting, and Valdosta did not even have a good bookstore; we got our reading matter from magazine racks.)

I remember, in 1965, drawing a block diagram of a TV in the dirt in front of the house we were building; this made my father proud and astonished the audience of construction workers. As best I recall, it was mostly correct, but I didn't understand heterodyning. It contained enough knowledge to match up tubes with symptoms, which was the most important part of the mysterious art.

It wasn't just me. TV was high technology for everyone. In Radio-Electronics you would see brief reviews of books on astrophysics amid articles on how to diagnose such-and-such a Zenith or RCA chassis. This was partly due to the wide interests of the magazine's publisher, Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967). Originally a radio dealer, Gernsback tied together futurism, science fiction, real science, and practical technology, with a remarkable determination to make scientific and technical knowledge available to the common man. I was proud to be a writer for Gernsback Publications until it completely ceased publishing magazines a couple of years ago. A web site still exists.

I, too, had very broad interests, and electronics never became my profession (as had been my ambition when I was eight years old). I ended up in computational linguistics, which, in a roundabout way, is an application of electronics. But I've always remained interested in fundamental electronic principles, and in the 1980s and 1990s I wrote over 200 articles for electronics magazines, many of which were "Q&A" columns for Gernsback.

The picture is from an ad in Gernsback's Radio and Television News, 1953.

Who is your Master Browser?

Don't worry, it's not a person, it's a computer. And it has nothing to do with browsing the web.

Windows local-area networks use a strange but democratic method to control themselves. One of the computers is elected Master Browser (or "Browse Master" in some documents). Its job is to tell all the others what's on the network.

If the Master Browser disconnects from the network and goes away, a new election is held, and for a few minutes you may experience some loss of functionality. For that reason, you may want to control which computer is master. Here's how to do it:

Run regedit and go to:

If your computer should never be Master Browser, set MaintainServerList to False or No. This is sometimes a wise choice for laptops that come and go a lot, provided other computers on the network are always up.

If your computer should be Master Browser, set IsDomainMaster to True or Yes (even though you're not in a domain). It may take a couple of elections before your computer gains control, but once it gets it, it won't let go.

To find out which computer is Master Browser, download and install browstat.exe from here. Put browstat.exe file in C:\Program Files\Resource Kit if you've already installed the free Windows XP/2003 Resource Kit Tools (which I strongly recommend).

Once browstat.exe is installed, go to a command prompt and type:

browstat status

to identify your Master Browser.

One afterthought. If you are in an Active Directory domain, the primary domain controller will be the Master Browser. If you have multiple domain controllers and the wrong one is acting as primary ("PDC emulator"), you can change it by following Microsoft's directions here.

Merci beaucoup, M. Lissajous

This is a Lissajous figure. It is the graph of:

x = sin t + p

y = sin (a/b) t

which you will recognize as (among many other things) the parametric equation of the circle (and many of its fancier relatives).

We see Lissajous figures on oscilloscopes when comparing the frequency and phase of sine waves. They are named after Jules Antoine Lissajous (pronounced lee-zah-zhoo), 1822-1880, who studied mechanical vibrations, pendulums, and the like. A popular Victorian gadget, the Harmonograph, created them (as well as more complex figures) by moving a pen under the control of swinging pendulums.

I wrote a program to generate Lissajous figures while playing around with graphics in C#. The nicest thing about C# graphics is that they allow me to draw on a "drawing surface" that is persistent and can be attached to a PictureBox as its "image." Then I don't have to make it redraw itself when the window is redrawn. It is preserved and redisplayed automatically.

You can download my program here. Just open the .zip file and launch the .exe file to run it. The other file is source code for inserting into your own C# project. You'll see that this is an experimental program; it includes some functions that aren't actually used.

That .exe file won't run unless you've installed .NET Framework 1.1, a free Windows upgrade from Microsoft. You may have already acquired it without knowing it. If not - if the .exe file refuses to launch - then get it here.

As you probably know, I consider .NET Framework to be the biggest advance in operating system technology since UNIX. (Windows itself wasn't; Windows is rather similar to UNIX internally, or at least represents the same generation of technology. .NET is an advance.)

Our fired cheerleading coach has decided to sue the University. This will at least force a reckoning of the facts, and it will force the Athletic Association to say what it thinks its policies are.

In the meantime, protest rallies in support of the coach are being held at today's football game. I wonder what a cheerleading coach's protest rally looks like. Presumably, it involves a lot of leaping girls.

Personally, I think lining up groups of supporters and opponents is the wrong approach. The outcome of the case depends on the facts. It's a lawsuit, not a popularity contest!

Encounter with a man-trap

This afternoon, after a faculty meeting that ran until 6:30 p.m., several of us almost got trapped while exiting the building.

There were two sets of doors.

The inner set was a pair of swinging doors that opened from the inside, then locked behind you to prevent entry from the outside.

The outer set was a pair of sliding doors, locked shut.

All of this was marked with an exit sign, but clearly, you couldn't exit. In fact, if you get between the pairs of doors, you couldn't even get back in!

We rescued a Professor of Germanic Languages from the trap and called campus police.

I won't say where it happened, for fear that someone would use the information to harm someone before the situation can be corrected.

SAT follies

Much is being made of the fact that the two states with the lowest average SAT scores are Georgia and South Carolina, and this year, Georgia no longer holds the bottom slot - South Carolina's average is 3 points lower.

It is argued that both states must have terrible school systems.

Well, I do think there are some problems with the public schools, BUT...

I also think the SAT scores are being misinterpreted in a crazy way. Note that:

  • Some state has to be at bottom, even if they are all nearly the same.

  • The difference between Georgia's score and South Carolina's is not significant. It's 3 points out of 1600. It would be like the doctor telling you you have a fever because your temperature is 98.6005.

  • Georgia and South Carolina have low scores because they give the SAT to a lot of students. The states with high scores give the SAT only to selected students who are definitely college-bound.

  • When you throw out the states that give the SAT to less than 50% of their students, the spread is only 30 points out of 1600 (for a set of data from the 1990s reported here).

    That's an almost insignificant difference, less than 1/3 of a standard deviation, right at the top of the bell curve.

In short: All the states have the same average SAT score, when you correct for whether the test is given to most students or just a selected group, and disregard insignificant differences.

September 1 is a date I associate with happy memories because of September 1, 1970. That day was my first day at Valwood School, and I realized immediately that I was going to like it. As icing on the cake, that same day also marked the arrival of my 6-inch reflecting telescope, the first one with which I ever did serious observing. And I've just learned that Donald Machholz has discovered yet another comet using the exact same make and model of telescope as the one I got in 1970 (a Criterion RV-6). I sold mine in 1976, got out of astronomy for a while, and got back into it around 1980 with a Celestron 5.

If only we were having 1970 weather. This year has been cloudy for as long as I can remember!

If what you are looking for is not here, please look at previous months.


Search Covington Innovations   Search Web