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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Daily Notebook

Copyright 2005 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.

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Doug Downing is here and we're working on the 2006 edition of this book, so I'm closing out the month early.

Also, I'm testing a Nikon D70s for astrophotography - or at least, I will be if the sky ever clears! Nikon USA is lending it to me. For ordinary photography it's a great camera. For astronomy, we don't know yet, but the hope is that it will give Canon a good run for the money.
[Nikon photo, edited.]

And note that Windows Vista ("Longhorn") is finally reaching beta-test, and solid information about it is beginning to reach the public. More news here.

I'll see you in August!

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Windows 2003 bug of the day

Terminal Server Licensing falsely reports
"No Terminal Server license server is available in the current domain or workgroup"

One of the purposes of this notebook is to record unusual Windows problems and their solutions. Here's one. I want to thank Dave Crouch and his colleagues at the University of Georgia for tracking this one down.

At our lab, we have two servers (let's call them M and D) that people access through Remote Desktop in order to use special software.

We also have two domain controllers (call them A and B) that host the users' files and accounts. Domain controller A is also the license server for Terminal Services Licensing.

As far as I could tell, M and D could not see the license server. We knew the license server was running because the other domain controller, B, could see it (but didn't need it).

A precise example: I logged onto M with M's local Administrator account; went to Programs, Administrative Tools, Terminal Services Licensing; and tried to tell M to find a license server, or use A. Here's what I saw:

So I believed licensing wasn't working. No users were being turned away because we were still in the 120-day grace period for a newly installed system. But I figured the grace period was just a time bomb.

Well... Want to know the explanation?

Licensing was working just fine. But the local Administrator account of M couldn't see it.

When I logged onto M with a domain administrator account, here's what I saw:

No problems at all!

The Terminal Services Licensing administrative tool should have complained that its account was not sufficiently privileged, rather than trying to tell me there was no license server available.

The actual names of my servers are concealed for security reasons.

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Cleaning out the in-box before we disappear into the book revision project...

Today Melody and I have been married 23 years.

The other day, when I was revealing the secrets of our happy marriage, I mentioned that marriage is an institution, not just a private arrangement; married people should be making a commitment to God and society, not just each other.

In a book that I was recently flipping through, the author pointed out that there's a flip side to this. Some people are more committed to "marriage" than to their spouse. This is not good.

One sees couples where one of them - commonly the bride - starts out with a strong desire to be married, irrespective of to whom, and this is not necessarily a recipe for happiness. Indeed, it can be pure egoism - acquiring a spouse as an extension of one's own ego, and then being annoyed that he or she has an independent personality.

That's not how Melody and I got started. We were best friends first, in love very soon afterward, and married after 5 years of graduate school!

By the way, I do not agree with that book's philosophy on all points, but the author definitely thinks for himself and isn't ashamed to say so.

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Raw Image Thumbnailer

If you work with raw files from a digital camera, you need the Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP, which you can download here.

Why everyone spells it RAW, I don't know. The word is just "raw," i.e., uncooked, unprocessed.

Be prepared for some weirdness installing this piece of software. As soon as it gets to "Preparing to install..." it disappears from the screen and stays invisible for several minutes, during which there is frantic disk activity. Then the installation continues.

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Eponymous dog in the sewing basket

Cathy, a girl of many talents, has gotten interested in quilting and has discovered that Tycho the dog is a useful quilting accessory.

Cathy also points out that the entertainment industry seems to be imitating her.

First she had an iguana named Draco, and then they made the movie Dragonheart, whose main character is named, of course, Draco.

Then she had a rat named Raven, and they made That's So Raven (fortunately not about a rat).

Now we have a dog named Tycho, and then we find out a new made-for-TV movie, Life is Ruff, stars a dog named Tyco.

And everybody thinks Cathy named her dog after that one.

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Codeless hams

The FCC has proposed to abolish the Morse Code requirement for all ham radio licenses, after reducing the requirement in steps over more than a decade.

They argue cogently that the requirement is obsolete.

The appeal of Morse Code to amateurs is that the equipment for transmitting and receiving it is very simple and very effective. It uses much less bandwidth than voice, so your signal gets much farther with a low-power transmitter. You can communicate around the world on 5 watts.

Also, it's traditional. That's why it has taken more than a decade to dismantle the requirement. When the first steps were taken to reduce it, the loudest objections were often little more than, "I struggled to learn the code, and you ought to struggle too!"

The struggle is of course more than just memorizing the code; you had to receive messages at a reasonable speed. Back in 1988-1990, I passed the exams at 5 and then 13 words per minute, then used a Heath HW-8 to communicate with places like Quebec on just a few watts. Melody passed the 5-w.p.m. exam just before it ceased to be necessary for the Technician Class license. Cathy is a "codeless Tech."

During the debate, I pointed out that the existing ham population was self-selected; people who were put off by Morse Code didn't enter it. Accordingly, the current set of licensees shouldn't be the only people who have a voice in the matter.

BTW, for those unfamiliar with ham radio: The reason licenses are necessary is that we're allowed to build our own equipment, without restriction. The licensing process is necessary to ensure that we don't interfere with other radio communications. It's not like CB or Family Radio Service, where all the equipment comes from the factory already set up for proper frequencies and power levels.

Besides providing a reservoir of technological talent, hams are an important part of our national emergency preparedness system. When storms knock down the telephone lines and cell towers, we're the people who step in and provide emergency communications. At least, if we live in neighborhoods that don't prohibit us from having antennas on our houses. If antennas are banned, you're incommunicado.

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Wayne Lytle's Animusic

Back in 1991, I was a judge for the IBM Supercomputing Competition. One of the entires was a remarkable computer-generated animation of whimsical instruments playing music. The whole thing was controlled by a musical score, but each note wasn't just sounded - it was also animated.

And I do mean whimsical. Drumsticks played the drum with no one holding them. Giant flowers made honking noises in proportion to their size, all perfectly on time and on key. Balls fell from the air onto a xylophone. And so forth. It's the kind of thing Walt Disney, early in his career, would have loved.

It was all done with a supercomputer at Cornell University and took days, if not weeks, of CPU time.

We gave the animator, Wayne Lytle, first prize for arts and humanities. And then I lost track of him.

Well, yesterday at Fry's we found him again. Or rather we found his first DVD, which you can sample here. Enjoy!

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A few short notes

Doug Downing is about to come for a visit, and the four of us (myself, Melody, Cathy, and Doug) are going to dig into revising the Dictionary of Computer and Internet Terms for a new edition to come out next spring. Don't expect much in this Notebook while that's going on.

Fry's was kind enough to take back the deficient Linksys WRE54G Wireless Range Expander even though it was out of its original box and beyond the 30-day return period. They gave me a store credit, which I invested in a big, fast CompactFlash card for the digital cameras.

We also got word of 2 more Fry's stores coming to the Atlanta area, one in Alpharetta and one in Marietta. I hope they don't spread themselves too thin.

Microsoft's licensing policy for Terminal Services strikes me as positively goofy. We've been setting this up at the AI Lab. Our Windows 2000 terminal server got upgraded to 2003 and we bought the TS-CALs. They will be assigned "Per User" and will recycle if a user doesn't log on for 90 days (which will dispose of the students who go away over the summer). We're still fiddling with the setup, which has proved unduly tricky.

The other license option is "Per Device" (you can license the PCs from which the users will connect).

I think both of these are unduly clumsy and inconvenient for users. The obvious way to license a terminal server is to let it accept up to N connections at a time, for some reasonable value of N. That's how every multiuser computer system in the history of the world did it, as far as I know, until this one.

Right now we are having trouble getting the terminal server see the licensing service on the domain controller. If everything gets too messy, we may downgrade that server back to Windows 2000 again!

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Unease about London...

No sooner did I display my banner of support for the British than they shot a man dead in the London Underground.

I hope they had better reasons than I've heard about so far. In America, the police aren't supposed to shoot you unless you're shooting at them. This man appeared to be unarmed, just "disobeying an order to stop."

One eyewitness says the police pushed the man to the ground before shooting him.

[Note added July 23: He was indeed an innocent victim.]

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  "Never give in... Never yield to force."
- Sir Winston Churchill

Our thoughts and prayers are with our British friends today as they deal with a second, though fortunately non-lethal, bomb attack. The attacker has underestimated both the toughness of the British people and the skill of British law enforcement. May justice be done!

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A fish story (22 feet!)

Last night Cathy and I managed to fish a cable through a 22-foot inaccessible space, horizontally.

It took two hours of trying, but we did it.

The inaccessible space is between a floor and a ceiling. Due to different ceiling heights in different parts of the house, the space is about a foot high. It has rafters on bottom and floor joists on top - no smooth surfaces.

One end opens into the attic. From there you peer into darkness, and 22 feet away is the wall of the den, where we needed to bring out a network cable.

We drilled a one-inch hole in the wall and inserted a long Greenlee fish tape, a springy metal strip with a hook on the end.

Then, from the attic, we fished for it with a long pole with a hook on the end, resembling the Greenlee "Fish Stix" but homemade. It consists of five-foot sections that can be joined together as needed.

It took a long time to work out how the fish tape behaved and how to get it into a good position. At the end, our homemade pole had a huge hook on it - Cathy's idea - made out of a coathanger and designed to snag the hook on the fish tape from any angle.

Starting about 9 o'clock, we made up our minds that we'd give up at 11 p.m. We got it at 10:59.

Then, thank goodness we had no trouble using the fish tape to pull the cable through.

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Farewell to WRE54G

The reason for the new cable is that we are decommissioning our Linksys WRE54G Wireless Range Expander.

We never got satisfactory performance from the WRE54G. As readers of this fine blog will recall, it was unduly hard to set up. In our experience, it does not support Wireless-B clients at all, even though Linksys claims it does. And we had a lot of trouble with our PCs never getting DHCP-served; after bringing a laptop back from standby, we often had to disable its wireless adapter and re-enable it to get a connection.

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The Discovery Channel is having "Shark Week" for fans of Jaws and the like. The advertising sponsor? Visa USA. Is that really the fish they'd choose to represent...

IBM is finally discontinuing OS/2. Melody and I used OS/2 for a while around 1994. It's an operating system similar internally to Windows NT, but with a clumsy GUI in which minimized windows become completely invisible.

No first-rate programming tools ever became available for OS/2 - nothing like Visual Basic, which was already on the market for Windows - and it never really took hold. But it is still used in cash registers, ATMs, and some other dedicated online computers. High reliability seems to be its selling point. I think that if IBM had paid Borland to port Delphi to OS/2 in 1994, they could have given Windows 95 a run for the money.

And have you ever built an electronic circuit on a tortilla? An unleavened breadboard...

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"Mash 'em all!"

One bit of unplanned comedy during our trip served to remind us that the north side of Atlanta is, well, not really very far from the dark side of Kennesaw Mountain.

The parking garage elevator at the Sheraton starts on the lobby level and stops only on odd-numbered floors. Thus its buttons are labeled L, 3, 5, 7, 9.

A three-generation family, visibly unaccustomed to the urban environment, got into the elevator (on level L) and started pressing L over and over, wondering why the elevator didn't take them to their car.

Further snippets from their conversation:

"Mash L. That's the button to get out."

"I don't know what floor we parked our car on."

"Mama, mama, we parked on the top one."

"Which one is the top?"

"I don't know. Mash 'em all!"

What were they going to do, visit all the floors simultaneously?

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A Kodak farewell

While rambling around Atlanta yesterday, Melody and I stopped in at Wolf Camera on 14th St., the flagship store of the chain before it merged with Ritz. There I bought what will probably be my last box of Kodak black-and-white photographic paper. My first was in 1967, and my attempts to develop it were not successful... that was a long time ago.

I also got two rolls of an unusual, recently discontinued film.

Kodak Rapid Process Copy Film uses the Herschel effect, or something of the sort, to produce a black-and-white positive image even though it is developed like ordinary negative film. It is very slow (requires a tremendous amount of light), with an ISO equivalent speed of something like 0.01. The rolls I got had been out of refrigeration for a long time and may not be usable. If they work, I'll be able to take 2-minute exposures of traffic on the road in broad daylight, and things like that. More news here, soon.

Speaking of Kodak papers, does anybody actually use Kodak Professional Inkjet Photo Paper? Visiting two major graphic arts suppliers and a big computer store, we didn't see it on sale anywhere. Kodak's Ultima paper, arguably better, is on sale everywhere. But Professional is the one for which they provide color matching profiles. Kodak sent me some samples of Professional a while back; pictures come out lighter and greener than with Ultima.

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Moon and star

  The moon almost passed in front of the bright star Antares yesterday evening. Seen from Florida, it actually did so. Such an event is called an occultation, and timing it is a good way to measure the positions of the earth and moon precisely. But from here, all we saw was a near-miss.

This picture was taken with the Digital Rebel and an ancient (1970s?) Soligor 400-mm telephoto lens at f/11. The exposure was 1/80 second on a fixed tripod, followed by a considerable amount of digital image sharpening.

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Happy anniversary to us!

Melody and I just got back from a weekend in Atlanta celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary (which is July 25). As a present, I gave Melody the trip, and she completely surprised me with a new MonteVerde fountain pen. Surprising me is hard to do because I review all the bank accounts and credit cards almost daily. But Melody did it. She is a woman of great talent.

We stayed at the Sheraton Suites Galleria and apparently made quite an impression on the restaurant manager, who sent an anniversary present to our room - it turned out to be champagne and strawberries.

People often tell us we're an unusually happy married couple, and we've certainly had 23 great years with plenty more to come. Here's my advice to those who want to achieve marital bliss, our way...

(1) Marry someone you like. An amazing number of dating or married couples don't seem to like each other as individuals. They're in love, but they're not best friends, or even particularly fond of each other in a non-sexual way.

In fact, this was a cultural stereotype 50 years ago - "my wife is beautiful but I don't understand her" - the cartoon image of the football ape married to the frilly china doll. But that is not what makes a good marriage.

People who don't like each other end up not treating each other very well. Their "love" is often just égoïsme à deux ("egoism for two"), and it's very fragile, vulnerable to every hazard. Not us.

(2) Be faithful. Complete chastity before marriage; perfect sexual fidelity afterward. We can't imagine doing it any other way. There are those who will say we're naïve, but I'll reply that there are things a person is better off missing.

Our commitment includes mental fidelity - the things Jesus said about "committing adultery in your heart." I don't mean we have to pretend not to be attracted to the opposite sex. What I mean is that we can't cultivate a mental fantasy life contrary to what we stand for in the real world.

If you are a peace activist, you probably don't fantasize about being a general in a cruel dictator's army. If you're an environmentalist, you probably don't daydream about building factories to pollute rivers. Well, marriage is the same way - if you're married, you can't spend your time mentally rehearsing things directly contrary to your commitment.

(3) Make a real commitment. Marriage is not just a temporary project Melody and I are trying out. It's part of what we are. We made a commitment not just to each other, but to society and to God.

It follows that any threat to our marriage is a threat to us, not just an obstacle to one of our projects. That criterion makes a lot of decisions very easy.

(4) Have plenty of fun. Melody is my joy and my delight. There's nothing tentative about our relationship - she's mine and I'm hers. Hooray!

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15 minutes of fame?

Yesterday I got a flurry of e-mail about a presentation I gave 3 years ago called How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly, and Learn Complex Material More Easily.

This puzzled me until I found out someone had listed it on del.icio.us, a place where people recommend web sites to each other. In short order, about 500 people were clamoring for it.

I quickly edited the appropriate web page to include an explanation that - well - publicizing this thing right now wasn't my idea, it's an internal document of The University of Georgia, and while I'm glad people elsewhere are enjoying it, I don't have the time or the budget to customize it for people elsewhere.

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Can machines be polite?

The presentation I gave in Santa Fe is titled "Can machines be polite?" and you can read it here, along with some other recent research.

This particular one didn't go into PDF very well. Read it in PowerPoint if you can. If you don't have PowerPoint on your computer, you can still view the files using Microsoft's free viewer.

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"Fired for blogging" again?

Further to yesterday's entry, I don't actually know the facts behind the widespread talk that people are getting "fired for blogging." I know of confirmed cases where bloggers have lost their jobs for doing manifestly obnoxious things on line.

Amazingly, they seem to think that only their close friends can read their blogs. Folks, a blog is about as private as the front page of a newspaper.

And now there's a wave of paranoia about the notion that if you have a blog, your potential employers might find out about your political, religious, or sexual activity and might hesitate to hire you.

Well... My approach to that is very simple. When you hire me, you're hiring the whole package. You're hiring me as I really am, not some façade I'm putting up.

I don't really have any secrets of a political, religious, or sexual nature. Privacy, yes. Secrets, no.

Of course, if people fail to get a job on their merits, this is another thing they can say to themselves. "They rejected me because I'm so-and-so." "No, sir, not only did we not care you were so-and-so, we didn't even know it!"

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Odd bug in Opera?

Do you see the words "Odd bug in Opera?" in larger, reddish type just above this sentence?

If not, you may have fallen victim to an odd bug in the Opera browser. Hit Refresh and they'll appear. For some reason, many entries in this notebook have that problem. The HTML is correct, and other browsers display them just fine as far as I can tell.

[Note added July 14: I think this is fixed now. Opera was choking on a zero-length named anchor, and Firefox was choking on some nested tags that didn't end in the reverse of the order in which they began.]

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Santa Fe sunset

From the La Fonda "bell tower" (no bell as far as I could tell). Click to enlarge.

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Santa Fe, Tunisia, and points in between

At the right is a classic Santa Fe scene, the cathedral as seen from the La Fonda Hotel. Specifically, this is the view from the window across the hall from my room. The cathedral dates from the 1880s and the hotel from about 1920, but there have been a hotel and a church on those respective sites since about 1610. That's right - Santa Fe is 400 years old. Albuquerque, which is about to celebrate its tricentennial, is a young upstart by comparison.

I came back extremely busy, and entries in this notebook are going to be sparse for a while. While I was gone, we had a major computer failure, now fixed. This is the week students have to finish their theses for summer graduation. As if all this weren't going on, we are hurrying to finish a major research paper. So things are hectic.

Administrative changes are going on, too. The current phase of CASPR is ending (not the whole project!) and I've been pressed into service to teach a microcontroller course (should be fun!) so that the current instructor can go and help improve higher education in Tunisia.

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Fired for blogging?

Disclaimer: In what follows I can only assume that the press is reporting the facts correctly. The facts are so strange that we must remember the possibility that they are inaccurate.

[Minor corrections made at 10:30 a.m. and 11:55 p.m. July 12.]

The Boston Globe reports this incident in which a Harvard employee was fired for blogging.

What? Are employers intolerant of blogs? Am I risking my job by posting this notebook on the Web?

I don't think so. Some people have allegedly been fired for relatively innocuous blogs; some employers apparently think they're buying your freedom of speech when they employ you. But this wasn't a case of that. Quoting a bit of the story:

Burch ... said linking to a personal website [in an e-mail signature] was a common e-mail practice within her office. However, Burch's site also featured a link to her personal weblog, where - nestled among hundreds of posts on punk rock and pop culture - there were some negative comments about her co-workers. In one post, Burch talked about her supervisors' "anal retentive control freakishness" and "random freaking out." In another, she wrote she was "declaring open season on senior faculty members."
Hmmm. Not pleasant company. Insults, not rational discussion of problems which in any case ought not to be aired in public. But read on:
"The whole blogging thing was so new back then, I never expected anyone to find it and read it," said Burch, who was fired in May 2004. "I wrote in the blog to let off steam, not stir things up, but they viewed my e-mail signature as some kind of open invitation to read those comments."

It was an "open invitation." That's what a web address is. And she was putting the address at the bottom of every piece of e-mail she sent out.

This reminds me of the "Don't tell my boss about my cocaine habit" type of postings we saw in the early days of newsgroups. (And even yet. About 2 days ago, someone posted, in sci.electronics.design, apparently under his real name, an account of his illegal drug use. And he's looking for a job in electronics.)

I call this the small-circle-of-friends illusion - the illusion that no matter what you post on the Web, it will only be seen by a few of your closest friends. Even if you invite millions of others to look at it.

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Back from Santa Fe

I've just returned from the Cognitive Systems Conference sponsored by Sandia Labs, where I gave a presentation (which will be on the Web soon) and led a discussion group. More about that soon.

In the meantime, there have been computer problems at ai.uga.edu and the material on my web page there may be, er, somewhat volatile. More about that soon too.

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Read tomorrow's news today! Uploaded July 3 for your holiday enjoyment...


Today, as we celebrate the removal of much of North America from the British Empire, let me call your attention to another historic occasion.

This September 18th will be the 50th anniversary of the conquest of Rockall by Great Britain.

Almost nobody has heard of Rockall unless they listen to BBC nautical weather reports.

Rockall is an uninhabited island, 80 feet in diameter, about equally distant from Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland (250 miles from each). It has been claimed by all three of those countries as well as Denmark and, oddly enough, Greenpeace, which apparently wants to start its own country.

On September 18, 1955, Her Majesty's brave forces - about four of them, I recollect - landed on Rockall and planted the Union Jack. Subsequent legislation made Rockall part of Inverness-shire in Scotland. This was the last territorial expansion of the British Empire.

The reason the Brits want Rockall is apparently that it may have oil under it. That, and the glory of the realm.

Enter The Rockall Times, a wacky British web site that landed a team of intrepid explorers on Rockall a couple of weeks ago (and even operated a ham radio station) to raise money for a mental health charity.

Caution: Much of the content of The Rockall Times is in bad taste. If you're looking for British propriety, look somewhere else.

It's not too late to donate. As far as I can tell, this is the most useful thing that has ever been done with Rockall.

Their Latin motto, Ultra mare usque nusquam, means literally "Across the sea all the way to nowhere," although they translate it more snappily as "By sea to nowhere."

Speaking of charity, my friend and colleague Wim Riedel is riding a bicycle up one of the Alps to raise funds for a hospital in Ghana. Support him here.

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Sigma 105/2.8 macro lens wins

This is the central area of a picture of the Lagoon Nebula (M8) taken with the Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 macro lens that Melody and the girls gave me for Father's Day.

The picture was taken under miserable conditions, under a hazy sky with only 3rd-magnitude stars visible. Nonetheless, you can see two nebulae and some star clouds. What you see is a stack of three 30-second exposures with the lens wide open, minus two dark frames.

Despite being a macro lens, this lens is super-sharp at infinity. The star images are 2 to 3 pixels in diameter throughout the picture. That is the result of the antialiasing filter in the camera - you're never going to get a 1-pixel image of anything, in a camera that is properly antialiased - so I conclude that the lens is sharper than the camera. Or at least well matched to it.

The stars are a little more like 2 pixels in the center and 3 pixels at the corner, or maybe vacillating between 2 and 3. I can live with that. They're practically perfect.

What you see here, by the way, is tremendously enlarged, spanning just 1/8 the width and 1/3 the height of the original picture. You're looking at the equivalent of a 16×20 or larger enlargement.

Notice the green spot to the right of the center. It is apparently a hot pixel that wasn't eliminated by dark frame subtraction. This implies that the pixel was only "hot" for a short time. This may be the result of a cosmic ray striking the sensor.


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A motley collection of public comments

One of the ways the Internet makes our lives better is to help people participate in government.

Here's an example. The Federal Reserve System recently solicited public comments on proposals to tighten up the regulations that implement the Truth in Lending Act. They got a lot of comments, which you can read on line here (including a handful of comments about other things that got tagged with the wrong docket number).

Capital One makes a nice proposal improving the readability of the credit card interest rate chart. Other people weigh in with more serious concerns, especially people who provide legal aid to the poor, such as this one.

In the old days you would have had to go to a specific room in Washington to read these comments. Not any more! But they have apparently been run through a rather eccentric PDF maker, perhaps an OCR-to-textual-PDF routine. (PDFs can be either graphics or text; the text kind is shorter.) I don't think all the spelling errors were in the original documents.

Ilford Photo is back in good financial shape, at least for the time being. (Sigh of relief!)

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Happy new month!

Starting today, I have permalinks - that is, each entry in this notebook contains a permanent link to itself, which you can bookmark or refer to. Normally, they're at the end of the entry, but multi-topic entries may contain more than one.

The Linksys WRE54G Wireless Range Expander does not support Wireless-B clients at all, even though most Wireless-G networks do.

It tries, but they see it as an access point with a garbled name, to which they can never authenticate.

For all I know, maybe it does support them with WEP turned off. I haven't tried, since I can't risk running an unsecured network.

It's been a good week for confusion on the Supreme Court. Here's an interesting commentary. Apparently, the way the Court sees it, displays of the Ten Commandments are OK only if they predate the Carter presidency.

It was Jimmy Carter who first got us thinking about how politics reflects morality, and morality reflects religion, and maybe we shouldn't keep our politics and our religion in watertight compartments any more. Remember?

Just call me 706-555-1234: Starting April 3, everybody in my area (northern Georgia) will have to dial 10 digits for every local phone call.

I can remember when psychologists proved that 7 digits was the ideal length for a phone number...and I can remember when, in some towns, you only had to dial 5 digits.

By the way, 706-555-1234 is not my phone number, nor anybody else's. But I'm in the book. And on the Do Not Call list.

Pelikan has unveiled a special fountain pen for astronomers. (It's not an illuminated pen for use in observatories, or anything like that; it's an astronomy-themed work of art.) I won't be buying one; it's over $2000. I'll bet it writes better than my $40 Pelikan, but probably not 50 times better.

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


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