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Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
If Quicken won't connect to your bank
Are all religions equally good?
Do you need some expenses to keep down your income tax?
"Edit with Notepad++" missing in Windows 7 64
My article about the NE602 frequency converter
\Device\Ide\IdePort0 did not respond...
Many more...

For more topics, scroll down, press Ctrl-F to search the page, or check previous months.

If you'd like to show your appreciation of the Daily Notebook, please consider making a contribution to my department at the University of Georgia. Thanks!



I am happy to report that my Verbatim 8-GB flash drive suffered no damage at all when it went through the washing machine and dryer with a pair of my trousers.

Premature end of month: Barring major unforeseen news, I'm closing out November now (uploading on the evening of the 27th). Too much to do! I'll see you in December.


Short notes, uploaded early in the day

This could have made sense, but on closer examination, didn't: Apple is refusing to honor warranties on computers exposed to heavy cigarette smoke.

Now, 30 years ago I knew that smoke would damage a diskette drive. But is that the reason? No; they've declared that a smoky computer is a "biohazard" to the technicians working on it. Surely not; surely their techs can safely handle things that are considerably more dangerous than smoke residue.

My other question: Being Californians, do they believe that although tobacco is intolerable, marijuana is OK?

Atlanta now has a "hacker space": Meet FreeSide, about which I (so far) know only what is on the web site. A "hacker space" is a shared electronics and computer worskhop run by a club. I don't know much about it yet, but wish them well. (Nothing to do with "hacking" in the sense of computer crime.)

Another month, another furlough: Having been forbidden to work on Wednesday, in order to make a deadline I'm going to have to go in on Saturday and possibly also part of Sunday. Can't win...


(Uploaded early. And no, I'm not standing in line at Best Buy!)

Advice to those who are about to shop...

Has anyone noticed that shopping isn't what it used to be?

And that's a good thing.

As recently as fifteen years ago, shopping involved lots of searching for serendipity — grabbing unusual items when they were available, or grabbing a good price when something went on sale.

That, of course, turned shopping into a recreational sport, or even a competitive sport.

Not any more. The World Wide Web has completed the job Sears and Roebuck started — making everything available all the time. And it has also completed the job Wal-Mart started — replacing "on sale" with "everyday low prices."

The thrill (or the inconvenience!) of the hunt is gone, because everything is always there, and the price doesn't fluctuate much.

And that, I think, makes our lives better in several ways. One of the most important is that it makes it harder for sellers to manipulate us. This year, considerable skepticism is being expressed about "Black Friday doorbusters." People realize they're being manipulated. Yes, you can go to the store at 5 a.m. if you want, but the deals you get won't be that much better than the rest of the time — if you get them at all.

Another triumph for market efficiency, American plain dealing, and our new culture of thrift.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Everything I said last year is hereby incorporated by reference. But I can't claim we've reached a new pinnacle of prosperity this year; the economic downturn has taken its toll. Still, it's a year of milestones. Cathy is about to graduate from UGA, and Sharon is within a year and a half of graduating from Emory. They're growing up!

How a dying disk drive
slowed down my whole computer for months
\Device\Harddisk0\D has a bad block
\Device\Ide\IdePort0 did not respond within the timeout period

Avid readers know that Minerva, my home office machine (single-core 2.4 GHz, vintage 2003) has just been superseded by Athena (quad-core). Now for the rest of the story.

For several months Minerva had seemed to be slowing down. I didn't remember Windows XP being that slow — nor Windows Vista. In general, there seemed to be too much disk activity, often periods of several seconds when the red disk-activity light was on and I had to wait for the computer to finish something.

Just yesterday, Minerva (which is on another desk now) took 25 minutes to boot up, and my assistance was requested. It continued to be somewhat erratic, though often working well for periods of as much as a couple of hours.

I should have looked at the logs. Using Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer, I saw the two "\Device..." messages quoted above — recurring at odd intervals for the past several months, but now extremely common.

They indicate a problem with the IDE (PATA) disk drive controllers. I had two hard disks on one controller and two DVD drives on the other. (Bad idea; the two hard disks are likely to be in use at the same time and should be on separate controllers). One of the hard disks — one that had remained in the machine when I swapped disks around and did a clean install — was the source of the problems. It was also disrupting the other disk on the same controller.

And because it rarely suffered real failures — just very long delays — I don't know how long I had had the problem. Possibly since installing that disk drive, around a year ago!

It's gone now, and Western Digital is going to give me a new one, and Minerva will live to see another day. It will probably become the financial-records computer.

Is "Cardholder Services" bogus? I think so...

It's scam season...

I just got a recorded phone call (itself illegal!) from something called "Cardholder Services" which, from past experience, is apparently bogus. They're "calling in reference to your credit card" but won't say which credit card. They're apparently hoping I'll give them my credit card numbers. At least, that is our past experience.

If you get a call about your credit card, hang up and call the number on the card. If the call was legitimate, the company will be expecting to hear from you at that number.

If anyone can confirm that "Cardholder Services" is legitimate, I'd like to know about it, and know what on earth they actually are. For what it's worth, Caller ID showed their number as 610-404-3141 and others report that they're an obvious scam.

Where's law enforcement when you need it? If pages of information about these things can be accumulated on the Internet, and the location is known, why doesn't the local sheriff show up and do his job?


Signetics NE602 one-chip frequency converter
One of my classic magazine articles

In the 1990s, I did a lot of writing for electronics magazines. One of the most influential articles I wrote was the one about the NE602 frequency converter IC, published in Radio-Electronics, April, 1990. As of today, you can read it on line.


The last tape drive

If you saw a mainframe computer room between about 1960 and 1990, you probably saw a dozen or more tape drives, each the size of a refrigerator, standing ready to read or write computer tapes.

The University of Georgia is decommissioning its last tape drive at the end of next month. (Here is a wretched cell-phone photo of it.) So today (Nov. 23) I took my tapes — the two with which I arrived here in 1984 — to see if they can be copied to disk and downloaded to a PC.

Along the way, I was given a tour of the machine room, which nowadays is very dull — full of Dell server racks, and an IBM mainframe, which is one box that looks rather like a heavily armored server rack, and inside is nearly empty. (Replacing a room full of 1970s-vintage equipment!)

I also learned that I still have a TSO account, left over from days of yore, and still renewed. I'm going to try it out soon. I'm told CPS still runs (under TSO, the way we've run it since about 1972), and I hope to be the world's very last CPS user.


The Achilles' heel of Athena

Pardon my mixed mythology...

I found something I don't like about the Asus Essentio. The flip-down door in front of the DVD drive gets in the way. The eject button is very hard to press even with the door open.

That would be tolerable if I only used the drive infrequently, but in fact I use it nearly every time I work. Accordingly, I've removed the door (non-destructively) and here's how it looks — not too bad. The only objectionable feature is the notch below the center of the opening; that's where the door spring would go.

[Note added Dec. 27:] What I missed: The button can be pressed through the closed door; there is a small mark on it saying "Push." (This is more obvious after you remove the clear protective plastic, which I had not done.) When you push, the door opens. To close it, I just give the tray a slight shove and the mechanism retracts it. So now the door is back in place and I am disabused of my earlier misconception.

A registry hack for Notepad++


One of the best things about Notepad++ is that it gives you an "Edit with Notepad++" option on every file, not just files that it recognizes as text.

Except that, for mysterious reasons, on Athena (with Windows 7 64-bit), it didn't.

To restore the missing feature, I made a file called Notepad++Hack.reg with the following content:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell\Edit with Notepad++\command]
@="\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Notepad++\\Notepad++.exe\" \"%1\""

and right-clicked on it to merge it into the Registry. That, in fact, is a general way to make all files openable with a particular program; you might also want to do it with your favorite hex editor.


The telephone is not a toy
(or if it is, at least the people on the other end are not toys)

The other day I heard about a high-school student who sounds like my kind of person...

He refuses to carry a cell phone.

He'd like to carry a cell phone, if he could use it to make and receive calls in the normal manner.

But in high school, if you have a cell phone, your "friends" who are addicted to texting will send you 100 text messages a day. Of these, about 2 to 5 actually convey information. The rest are pointless, but the "friends" will be offended if you don't answer.

Thanks to the cell phone, you can't get away from anybody.

Parents, please teach your children (and adults, please take note): Constantly demanding attention by telephone is just as rude as constantly demanding it any other way.


Highly recommended: ASUStek Silent Series

I replaced the noisy graphics card in Athena with an Asus (ASUStek) EN8400GS (details here, buy one here for a whopping $25 after rebate).

No fan, no aircraft-like noises — just a big heat sink. And surprisingly good performance.

Having moved 100 GB of files the slow way (via Ethernet), I am now laboriously installing application software on Athena. Each major item seems to want an hour or two to upgrade itself over the Internet after I install it.


Happy 21st birthday, Sharon!

The falling cost of computing

Here's a comparison of some of the computers I've owned (actually, I still own all three of these):

Description Year CPU speed
CPU cores Register
size (bits)
(in today's
IBM Personal Computer 1983 4.77 1 16 256 0.36 $3100 $6700
IBM PS/2 Model 70 1991 20 1 32 6,144 120 $5500 $8750
Asus Essentio 2009 2500 4 64 8,388,608 1,000,000 $650 $650

How did I ever afford either of the first two? On the other hand, how could I have afforded not to have them? They made my career.

(At the time, we talked about getting a bumper sticker printed: "My other car is a computer.")

Even at $650, my latest computer is high-end. You can get a refurbished single-core Windows XP system at Micro Center for about $100. That's $50 in 1983 dollars, or $15 in 1965 dollars (1965 being the earliest time from which I remember prices).

(By the way, I didn't use a PS/2 Model 70 from 1991 to the present! But its two successors, the first Athena and Minerva, were built piecemeal and it's hard to assign exact prices or dates to them.)


Two notes relating to University of Georgia football...

UGA VII, our mascot, has died. He was an English bulldog and was only four years old. Cathy points out that bulldogs are bred to be deformed and usually can't breathe very well and can't give birth except by C-section. (Some French ones can't even mate.) Could we perhaps take a step back toward a variety of bulldog that isn't quite so extreme?

Meanwhile, we are starting to hear voices poking fun at the way we let football fans trash the campus. Why must our historic and (in places) beautiful grounds turn into a campground and mudhole for the crowds at every football game? It has become traditional to "tailgate," i.e., set up tents and grills, leaving huge amounts of trash behind. That's just not what a campus is for. Cambridge University is adorned with signs exhorting visitors to "respect those who live and work here." Could we do the same?

(North Campus, the area hardest-hit, dates from 1785 and is the oldest state university campus in the nation.)


Meet Athena

For the first time in something like six or seven years, I've bought a new desktop computer. (And I'm recycling the name of my 1993 desktop, which was a 486SLC running Windows 3.1, and was the first computer we named.) The new computer is an Asus Essentio quad-core system, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB disk, with 4 open slots (2 PCI, 1 PCI Express x1, 1 PCI Express x16) and was surprisingly cheap at Best Buy. Also, it's scantily documented. Basically, I've bought an Asus motherboard in an Asus enclosure with Windows 7 preinstalled. And that's fine with me!

It's quiet, except for the ATI graphics card that I added in order to run two monitors; that is loud (and apparently the loud fan on the graphics card is a status symbol among computer gamers, who are a bit like motorcyclists). I think I'm going to look for a quieter one even if it's less powerful.

[Addendum: Silent, fanless graphics cards are made by, of all people, Asus. I have one coming.]

Signs of the times: (1) The disk drives, including DVD, are all SATA; no PATA (EIDE) anywhere. (2) There is no serial port. (3) There are USB ports all over the place.

Pleasant surprise: Although the mouse has to be USB, the computer will still take a PS/2 keyboard. So I can continue my eccentric habit of using a keyboard that originally belonged to an IBM PS/2 Model 25. I bought several of these keyboards, surplus, a few years ago. They are unusually compact and solidly built.

This is my first venture into 64-bit Windows. I'm sure I'll have some stories to tell...

Academia versus industry: Thinking about what I might be doing in several years, after retirement from UGA, I wonder if industry jobs are like this.


Jupiter in twilight

During twilight on the evening of the 15th, I got this picture of Jupiter, which was made by combining the 1200 or so best images out of a series of more than 2000 video frames. I've corrected the color to take out the excessive blue from the sky. You can see that the sunlight isn't hitting Jupiter straight-on, or more precisely, that we are no longer close to being directly between Jupiter and the sun.



For sale — Meade Deep-Sky Imager

Recently I bought a used original-model Meade DSI by mistake, thinking I could use it as a video planetary camera. It's in good working order, as you can see from the image above, which is a 30-second shot of M15 with no corrections.

Before I put it on eBay or an astronomy classified ad site, does anybody out there want it? It includes the imager itself, a USB A-B cable (too short; you should get a longer one), and a parfocalizing ring. It does not include software (which you can download from Meade, or preferably, just download the drivers, and use K3CCD or some other imaging package; I used MaxIm DL for tests). It could probably stand to have its sensor cleaned.

First $60 takes it (U.S. shipping included), or make me an offer.

The Meade DSI is powered by the USB bus and has one well-known quirk: You should power your laptop externally while the laptop is powering the DSI, or else the laptop may not be able to deliver enough power by USB. This one bit me with a late-model Toshiba Satellite.

Possibly also for sale: Two Canon EOS film SLRs, one of which is the astronomy-friendly EOS 10S (able to make long exposures without draining the battery). Just the thing for the Canon DSLR enthusiast who would like to try film. (They take EF but not EF-S lenses.) Inquire if interested.


More short notes

Beware of pranks in Wikipedia: Two or three times in as many days, I've overheard people boasting that they had put obvious misinformation into Wikipedia, for the purpose of tripping up students who don't verify their sources. Recall that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, and if someone tells you the American Revolution ended in 1945, tell them they've been had.

Covington Innovations has a new front page, designed by Melody. Enjoy! [Yes, I know it resembles the 2003-2008 front page.]

"Printing - Restarting": My print jobs were getting stuck at the "Printing - Restarting" stage. The culprit? A bad USB cable.

Ladies, aren't you glad you aren't married to Bernie Madoff?


Extremely short notes

(Do your own Googling today; I'm too busy to insert hyperlinks.)

Today (Saturday, Nov. 14) Melody and I had a very enjoyable lunch in Marietta with old friends from Valdosta, alumni of The Action Trav'lers (well, there's one hyperlink for you), including people I hadn't seen in 25 years or more. (And who hadn't changed a bit!)

Later, looking around in Fry's, we learned about:

  • Nikon and Canon DSLRs that do ISO 100,000. That is 200 times the sensitivity of typical film. Until now, DSLRs were comparable to film. I don't know what this factor-of-200 jump does to the picture quality, but at ISO 100,000, you should be able to take a handheld snapshot of the stars in the night sky. (5 seconds at f/1.8 at ISO 500 = 1/40 second at f/1.8 at ISO 100,000.)
  • The modern equivalent of a tape recorder: MicroTrack II, a $200 gadget that records on CompactFlash cards with 100 dB SNR and 0.003% THD. (Those are incredible specifications. A really good tape recorder is 60 dB SNR and 1% THD.)
  • Windows PowerShell. It deserves some attention, which I shall one day be able to give it.

The tax deduction fallacy

I've seen surprisingly intelligent people fall into the following financial fallacy: "I need some business expenses in order to reduce my income tax." (Or, "I need some interest expenses.")

Well, it's true that if you need or want to incur the expense anyhow, and it's deductible, then you should deduct it.

And it's true that a deductible expense costs you less than it would have if it weren't deductible.

But it's not true that you can save money, net, by incurring deductible expenses.

People are mixing up deductions with savings. If you incur an expense of $1,000 and deduct it, that means you reduce your taxable income by $1,000. This will reduce your tax by maybe $250, depending on your tax rate. Deductions are cuts in income, not cuts in tax costs.

In the example, the deduction turns a $1,000 expense into a net $750 expense. That's better, but it's still an expense.

Spend $1,000 to save $250? Not a winning proposition!

(And before you ask, tax withholding does not change this in any way.)

Some people think a deduction will pay by getting them out of a higher tax bracket — if you cut your taxable income slightly, will your taxes fall more than your income did? No, tax brackets don't work that way. Tax rates apply to marginal income (the portion of income above a certain threshold), not the total income. So when you enter a higher bracket, only the additional income (above the minimum for the bracket) is taxed at the higher rate.

Now you know!

(One last note. The nearest you can get to "needing some expenses" is perhaps choosing to incur an expense before the end of the calendar year, to help equalize the taxable income across years and and reduce the amount that is taxed in a higher bracket. I've done that myself.)


Full, standing room only

I suppose this is good news... My natural language processing course for next semester is full, with at least 16 students enrolled.

The normal limit for an 8000-level graduate course is 15, but someone accidentally changed the limit on this one to 17 and we let it stay that way. I may end up with as many as 20 students. Last year we had 6; I've taught it with as few as 3. Word has gotten out... and also, the course has been re-engineered so that you don't have to take CSCI/ARTI 6540 first.




How not to do it: I heard someone call in to a radio show who was in the following predicament. He always wanted to be a doctor. Unable to get into an American medical school, he went to a private one in the Caribbean. With his parents as co-signers, he has amassed $250,000 in student loans and can't get any more, even though he's 2.5 years away from finishing. Reportedly, these are private loans, dischargeable through bankruptcy. If they are ordinary non-bankruptable student loans, they probably still could be discharged on grounds of undue hardship.

So one path is for himself and his parents to go bankrupt. The other is to negotiate some type of deferment of the loans and set out to earn $250,000 and pay them back, rather like a person who has taken a huge loss on a business venture.

He's certainly not going to be an M.D. And, by the way, his wife left him when he started this. What advice do we give in that situation? As an educator, I think he should have listened to the American med schools that were turning him down. You don't want to be at the very bottom of your school or your profession.

Hooray, inflation is coming: Inflation (a decrease in the value of the dollar) will make it easier to pay our student-loan debts, will absorb the federal budget deficit, and will even fix a problem with international trade. Or so we're told.

Should you worry about mortgage fraud? In my opinion, no, that's what the legal and banking system is for. It's true that there have been people who have forged title documents. But forged documents are worthless in court. Title insurance protects you from being an innocent buyer of a stolen title. The legal system itself protects you from fake transactions involving your property. You don't need a "free" monitoring service. And anyhow, why is it free? Perhaps because they are going to send you junk mail and junk e-mail. Or perhaps for some other reason. Clark Howard's advice to the contrary, I don't want to get tangled up in that.

(Cathy points out that trying to "steal" a house that has a mortgage on it is practically impossible. The thief would go to great expense and end up with nothing.)


Thermostats for conscious people


Before: Complicated late-1980s programmable thermostat, with door left open so we can reach the fan switch. Note hand-lettered labels for visibility in a dark corner.

After: Simple vintage-2009 non-programmable digital thermostat with display that lights up at the touch of a button.

We gave up on programmable thermostats because ours seemed to be a device for getting the temperature wrong in different ways at different times of day. It had a large amount of hysteresis ("dead zone") to keep from overworking the compressor, so if the air temperature was within about 2 degrees of the setting, the heater or air conditioner wouldn't run. As a result, we had a lot of fluctuation over about a 4-degree range.

The new thermostat aims for 1-degree accuracy and uses timing, not a dead zone, to keep from switching the system on and off too rapidly.

We have new thermostats of this general type both upstairs and downstairs. The key idea is, our temperature is controlled by conscious human beings. We know whether we're hot or cold; we don't want to run more air conditioning or heating than we actually need; and we think we make better decisions than a machine does.

[Update:] The new thermostat has made the house appreciably more comfortable. Because it has no appreciable dead zone, it runs the heating system in several short sessions during the night, rather than waiting for a 2- or 3-degree drop and then running it for a long time and getting much of the house too hot. Simply having several short periods of air circulation, rather than one or two long ones, really helps equalize the temperature throughout the house.

We have two new thermostats. The one upstairs, for a heat pump with an emergency heat mode, came from Wal-Mart. The one downstairs, matching in style but actually a discontinued model, came from Honeywell-Thermostat.com, which I recommend. They are also known as Air & Water, Inc. (Santa Ana, California).

Two short notes

Can anybody out there recommend a text editor, or at least viewer, for files larger than 2 GB? Quite a few of them, including TextPad, go right up to 2 GB, but that is the limit. Where did I get a text file larger than 2 GB? Unfortunately I can't tell you. But I can tell you I didn't create it. Found it: V the File Viewer.

Happy Veterans' Day (place the apostrophe correctly because there's more than one veteran involved). This is the anniversary of the day in 1918 that my grandfather was drafted and the Germans couldn't stand the thought of facing him.


Short notes

I gave a talk today (Nov. 9) about how UGA developed its computer ethics policy (cf. this) and had a very different experience than when giving similar talks in the 1990s. Computer ethics is now common sense. Absolutely no one argued that "there are no laws in cyberspace" or that the University should try to exempt them from the law of the land.

And nobody laughed when I said there's organized crime on the Internet. (We receive fake e-mails "phishing" for credit card numbers or passwords every day.) Twenty years ago, when I said such things, people laughed, and society gave the bad guys a 20-year head start.

After a 5-year hiatus, on Saturday I again attended the Lawrenceville Hamfest. I found it little changed, except that really old (pre-1970) test equipment has become scarce, and good analog oscilloscopes (c. 1990) are abundant. Antique radios and parts for them are as abundant as ever. I saw three, yes three, restored Hallicrafters S-40's, although what I really want to do is restore my own.

Book for gadgeteers: After a long delay, there is a new edition of Building Scientific Apparatus. There's no other book like it!


How the bubble happened

Until Cathy pointed it out to me, I hadn't know about this American Public Radio program explaining the real-estate bubble. It aired in May 2008, when the bubble was starting to burst but the rest of the economy looked sound.

If you don't have time to listen to it, read the transcript.

The key claim is that the bubble resulted from bad decisions made by investors and bankers. In particular, investors pushed bankers to make more and more mortgage loans. This, in turn, may have happened because the interest rates on Treasury bonds were so low that investors clamored for something else to invest in. But if you take that last sentence seriously, APR seems to think that it is the government's (i.e., the taxpayers') duty to borrow money at moderately high interest rates so investors will have something to invest in. Hmmm...


A point of theological logic

Back in the Twentieth Century, we regularly heard it said that "all religions are equally true" and none is objectively better than the others. ("There are many paths to the top of the same mountain" as one of my fellow students eloquently put it in 1973.)

We don't hear that so much any more. I think it's because people have come to grasp the following line of reasoning:

If you say all religions are partly true, you're on solid ground. They could well be correct about some things and mistaken about others. They surely contain some goodness and wisdom, or they wouldn't have survived.

But if you say they are all equally true, you're in a quandary. The belief that "all religions are equally true" is itself the belief of only one cultural group — a fraction of the college-educated population of America and Europe. Almost everybody else disagrees with it.

So you still have one cultural group claiming that its view of religion is objectively the best — and claiming that no view of religion is objectively the best. See the problem?

(I am aware that the argument can be formulated in such a way that it is not a direct self-contradiction. But when this is done, it doesn't seem as appealing as originally intended.)


Two short notes

Interesting camera store near Emory: The Camera Doctor, complete with darkroom rentals by the hour, camera repair, and modified plastic Diana cameras on sale. Someone at Emory must be keeping film photography alive, because I also saw boxes of Ilford enlarging paper in the college bookstore.

Don't go there: I do not recommend Argleton, Lancashire (in England) as a convention site. Click the link to find out why. But it may eventually go the way of Agloe, New York.

The lecture circuit: My series of 5 talks has turned into a series of 6. Coming up next:

"How UGA Developed Its Campus Computer Ethics Policy," Computer Science Department Lunch & Learn, Monday, Nov. 9, 1:25 p.m., Room 306, Boyd GSRC (University of Georgia).

"Schizophrenia, Linguistics, and Computers" (same talk as given recently at Emory University, with minor updates), Computer Science Department Colloquium, Friday, Dec. 4, 3:30 p.m., room to be announced, Boyd GSRC (University of Georgia).


See below

For today, I've expanded the first article in yesterday's entry (below).


Four ethical insights


I'll soon be giving an informal talk about computer ethics, and thinking back on large amounts of Internet misbehavior that I've dealt with, I want to point out four ethical insights that some people fail to have.

(1) There are people in the world besides yourself, and they have rights. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Ethically deficient people often look down on large amounts of humanity. Computer geeks look down on people who aren't computer experts. Outside the realm of computer ethics, the rich look down on the poor, the fortunate look down on the unfortunate, and vice versa. This easily turns into an excuse to be unjust.

(2) Gratefulness is important.

Ethically deficient people often fail to appreciate good things that have been done for them. My experience with malicious computer users is that they often live in a world of perpetual adolescence, presuming somebody has a duty to support them regardless of whether they are doing anything of use to others. The idea of earning a living — that is, having to do what other people need or want — is lost on them.

(3) We need "rules of the road." Good intentions are not enough; you have to follow accepted practices so that you won't do unintended harm.

A corollary is that you have to follow society's rules even if you don't agree with them. Over the years, I encountered quite a few people who simply wouldn't accept facts about the law of the land or how organizations operate.

(4) Malicious harm is not the victim's fault, even if the victim could have prevented it.

Computer geeks, in particular, tend to want to solve every problem by armoring the potential victims rather than by deterring the crime. It's as if we had (as I have said before) too many locksmiths and not enough sheriffs.

Why do you have a lock on your front door? To keep the burglars out? Surely a burglar with a crowbar or a picklock could still get in. The purpose of the lock is to distinguish burglary from normal entry. You are not required to make your house impenetrable in order for burglarizing it to be illegal.

Bad experiences with F-Secure Antivirus

The trouble with Windows Vista and F-Secure Antivirus is that both of them are frequently updated on line, so a system that is stable won't remain stable.

Today I lost half a day's work time trying to fix my computer. F-Secure Client Security 8.00 wouldn't let me log in to my roaming account, although it had been working fine for months. I upgraded to 8.01, which let me log in but blocked all access to e-mail (even with the firewall off and all ports open). [Workaround: Turn off e-mail scanning. But e-mail is almost the only way viruses ever reach me, so I want it scanned. [But then the login problem came back and I had to de-install F-Secure again.]

Then I de-installed F-Secure and put on Microsoft Security Essentials as a test. (For licensing reasons, it can't stay; it's free for home users but not institutions.) Everything worked fine.

Because F-Secure is configured and packaged locally, I have no idea whether the problem was actually introduced in the University of Georgia's local distribution.

Short note

I had a very good visit to Emory University, about which more later. Suffice it to say that I'll soon be doing research with medical applications again.


Short note

Today (Nov. 3) I'm on the road to speak at a university that has never lost a football game.

No time to write much here. Instead, read ThereIFixedIt.com.


If Quicken won't connect to your bank or credit card company...

For months if not years, Melody and I had thought that Quicken wouldn't do automatic downloads from SunTrust Bank. (Nor two major credit card companies that we had occasional dealings with.) And there may have been a time when this was actually true. But now it works, thanks to an important workaround that I found.

The crucial idea is that you have to erase old, incorrect data about how to connect and then set up the connection afresh. As long as the old information stays stored in Quicken, the connection will never work.

Here's how it's done.

(0) Get hold of an up-to-date version of Quicken. In the examples, I'm using Quicken 2010, updated yesterday.

(1) Go to Tools, Account List, and find the account you're having trouble with.

(2) Click the little gold rectangle to view the account.

(3) Choose "Edit Details."

(4) Under the "Online Services" tab, remove the account from One Step Update.

(5) Close the pop-up window, go back to the One Step Update menu, and set up the account anew. This time it will work.

By way of background, Quicken has two ways of downloading transactions, Direct Connect (a web API) and Web Connect (web-page scraping). Quicken is updated frequently so that it knows how to do at least one of these with nearly every financial institution there is. It will choose the right one automatically, but then it may offer to "improve" the connection by trying to switch from Web Connect to Direct Connect. Trying to do so is harmless but, in my experience, is unlikely to help, since if Direct Connect had been available, you would have had it already.


Furlough day 1

I said October was over, so I'm starting November a few hours early. Read tomorrow's news today!

On Friday, Oct. 30, the University had its first furlough day, and things didn't play out quite as originally planned.

The problem is that, unlike a holiday or weekend, on a furlough day we're forbidden to come to work, except for the few of us whose furloughs were officially changed to a different day. (That will happen to me in March because I'm speaking at a conference on the scheduled furlough day.) Being forbidden to work is better than the alternative; if working for the University were permitted, it would be expected, and then the University would be in legal trouble.

As a result, the University was more thoroughly shut down than anyone foresaw. The students had a day off ("fall break," for the Georgia-Florida football game), and the students who stayed in town (probably 80% of them) had to deal with a shut-down campus (no libraries, no buses, probably no food). More seriously, the University is having trouble honoring its promise not to cut anyone's salary below $23k during the furlough. The trouble is that our lowest-paid workers simply have no place to work if their managers aren't present.

I'm a bit concerned about the safety of the campus under these circumstances.

I spent the day resting (remember, I'm in a whirlwind of work and travel, and it's not over); I also reviewed a book proposal and did part of a consulting job. I didn't answer University e-mail or even use the University's laptop that is assigned to me for use a home. (But I did see incoming University e-mail and handled items that did not appear to be University business.)

Today, Saturday the 31st, I'm about to go in to the office to catch up. I suspect I won't be the only one there. [But I was!]

Hidden colors of the Pleiades

Here's my Pleiades picture from the other day, with the brightness and color saturation turned up. You can clearly see that the dust cloud is thickest toward the south (bottom in the picture) and is somewhat redder there, not just brighter.


The Patriarch of Constantinople, one of the most important church leaders in the world, visited Atlanta on October 29 and, as far as I can tell, the Atlanta newspaper took no notice of it. They were too busy telling us about "Real Housewives," a "reality" TV show about quarrelling women (who, as far as I can tell, are not wives, but I've only watched them long enough to recognize the show and change the channel).

The recession is officially over — GDP is up — and since GDP includes government spending, this doesn't really prove much. Accordingly, there is doom and gloom on Wall Street.

Against programmable thermostats: We're ditching our programmable thermostat downstairs (vintage 1988 or so) and our clunky manual one upstairs (vintage 1990) and putting in plain, simple, modern digital ones. Instead of microprocessors, our heating and cooling will be controlled by conscious human beings. Initial results with the one we installed upstairs (Honeywell RTH3100C) are very good. More news in a few days when the other one arrives. Important desideratum (manufacturers take note!): We don't want the fan switch hidden behind a door or faceplate.

As usual, I must remind people that it's Halloween, not Holloween. (Not Hall-oween either.)

Things I've overheard myself saying recently (in a numerical methods talk, while displaying an example): "Fortunately, this is not the only curve we can generate. If it were, this would be by far the most specialized talk I've ever given."

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