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Popular topics on this page:
Cathy's BFA exit show
Farewell to old Timothy School
Is Dec. 25 Jesus' birthday?
Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 and LS-2000 resources
Eclipse MP3 Player

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

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Farewell to the Zeroes
(The Aughts? The First Decade? The Worst Decade?)

Strictly speaking, of course, this century began in 2001, and its first decade continues through 2010. But if we classify decades by the first three digits of the year (the Sixties, etc.), the 200- decade is ending. What are we to make of it?

It doesn't even have a proper nickname, although I've listed several candidates above.

Of course, we divide centuries into decades culturally, not arithmetically. And, earlier, I opined that this one ended with the inauguration of Obama, or the economic panic in October 2008. Actually, I now think the long-awaited upturn (which seems to be starting now) will be the true boundary.

We'll have to wait and see. One relevant idea (which I got from the dissertation of my good friend Margaret M. Fleck) is that a boundary is defined by simultaneous small changes in many things, rather than a large change in one thing. She applied that concept to machine vision, but it has much broader implications. Think about it for a while.

In any case, much of America would call this the "Worst Decade." Economist Paul Krugman recently pointed out that this was the first decade in a long time when America didn't really make economic progress. In fact, we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq nearly the whole time. But my own career was exciting — at the start of 2001 I had not yet started either of the two research programs that have kept me busy all decade, computational psycholinguistics and text mining.

I wish you all a happy, prosperous, and blessed 2010—2019.



The harder I try to make the Daily Notebook boring, the more people like it. I've gotten fan mail today about my recent "rant" about the health insurance bill, my earlier comments on it, and my review of Michael Novak's Business as a Calling.

What will it take to bore you? A guided tour of the Windows Registry? (No, you're not getting one!)


Sundry notes

An Australian journalist has condensed all of Greg Mankiw's economics course into one short newspaper article. Read it and think.

In a few years there will be no more (paper) bank checks (cheques) in Britain. A check, you recall, is originally a letter to your bank instructing them to pay money out of your account to "the order of" someone else. "The order of" means they can endorse it and make it payable to someone else. Since the late 1960s, most checks have been marked with special codes for computer processing, but I'm so old that I can remember when small-town stores kept "counter checks" — if you hadn't brought your checkbook with you, you could make a purchase by filling in your account number and other information on a blank check provided by them.

The younger generation may not realize that as recently as 1990 or so, credit cards were not usable everywhere, but checks were. Now it's the other way around.

Note to spelling checkers: Baby Jesus was not placed in a manager.

One more rant about the health insurance bill

Actually several points:

  • There are plenty of technical and economic objections to the proposed plan, but I'm not hearing much about them, nor am I hearing practical counterplans, just people ranting about how any proposal must be bad.
  • Does anyone really believe that people should be condemned to poverty if they have a child with a birth defect, or if they come down with an expensive-to-treat condition, or if they happen to lose a job (even though they find another one soon afterward, but have a "pre-existing condition")?

    Part of the right wing seems to believe this. I don't know why social Darwinism is so popular with people who say they can't stomach biological Darwinism.
  • A related point: We don't control our own health as much as some people think. There are obvious things you can do, such as not smoking or using illegal drugs, not overeating grossly, and so forth. But, despite what some young and healthy people imagine, you cannot avoid old age or the risk of severe disorders just by staying fit. (Example: A birth defect in the heart can go unnoticed until age 40 or so, and then require $150k of surgery, and no exercise or diet can prevent this.) Blaming the victim simply won't do.

    What insurance companies can do, that the rest of us cannot, is calculate the actual value (or lack thereof) of particular health-promotion measures, and save us from wasting effort on things that aren't cost-effective. We don't want to do every little thing that, according to research, might give us a slight edge; the burden to our freedom would be too great.
  • Have people realized that health care isn't what it used to be? A hundred years ago, 24-hour nursing care was the most you could pay for. Today, new technologies have been invented and are saving lives, but they cost money. This is a fact of life in the modern world — we spend much more on health care than our grandparents did, and we get to stay healthier and live longer. (Just as our grandparents spent far more on fuel and communication than their grandparents did — and got to travel a lot more.)

    The question is how to manage the cost, which is highly unpredictable for individuals. The answer is insurance, but it has to be insurance that everyone can get, regardless of employment or known health problems.
  • Have people realized that we're already paying for uninsured people's health care in the form of higher prices at hospitals? If the hospital only gets paid part of the time, everyone's bill has to be that much higher.

    We're also paying for malpractice suits the same way. Instead of punishing bad doctors, huge malpractice awards simply oblige all doctors to carry very expensive liability insurance, and they have to pass the cost on. Tort reform is the neglected opportunity to reduce all our health-care costs.

    (If you're asking, "Why do they have to pass the cost on?" you really don't know enough about economics. Think for a moment. Anyhow, do you think good doctors should be punished because other doctors are bad?)
  • Among all this hoopla, I don't hear anyone clamoring to end Medicare. If government health insurance were an unmitigated evil, surely someone would be objecting to what we already have...?

Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 and Coolscan LS-2000 resources

My Nikon Coolscan is back home, expertly and quickly repaired by Paul Ferrante, who advertises his repair service on eBay.

(Here you see it lying on its side, which Nikon recommends; maybe it will collect a bit less dust this way.)

All it needed was cleaning and lubrication. (The symptom was that it gave a "Sense" error and didn't pass its own self-test routine; something was keeping the mechanism from moving.) I had previously sent it to Nikon USA, who reported that it needed parts that are no longer available, and sent it back to me. I am less impressed with Nikon USA than I used to be.

This cleaning can be a do-it-yourself operation. Reader Pierre Deloustal referred me to this page by Don Doucette describing the procedure. I chose not to do it myself because, at the outset, I had no idea whether this is what was needed. Also, it's delicate and I didn't want to take any risks.

Received wisdom is that all Coolscans develop this problem, due to age, whether or not they have been used much, and the ones made around 2000-2001 are developing the problem right now.

Other resources:

Setup procedure for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 (32-bit) (my own notes)

Setup procedure for 64-bit versions of Vista, presumably also XP and Windows 7 (I haven't tried this)

Finally, here is a piece of its handiwork. This view is very familiar if you live in Valdosta, Georgia, where I grew up, and where I took this picture with Robert Winter's Nikkormat in, I think, 1975.

These scanners are becoming scarce and expensive — there is even a rumor that Nikon has stopped making them — so get one while you can! Not only film, but also high-quality digitization of film, is becoming obsolete.

Eclipse MP3 Player


Who would have thought that in my lifetime, a fine stereo system (to drive headphones) would be the size of a matchbook, and would cost less than a good dinner in a restaurant? I well remember our first family stereo, in the summer of 1963, purchased from Sears for $140 (which is something like $1000 in today's money), and sounding, even by the standards of the time, none too good (lots of hum and low FM sensitivity, both inherent in the design).

For Christmas, Melody gave me an Eclipse CL2 MP3 player. It sounds great. Since the documentation was somewhat scant, and you may have gotten one of these for Christmas too, I'm documenting it here. (No, I don't sell these things, nor do I have any further information about them.)

I am describing a simple way to use it like a disk drive. These instructions for Windows will transfer easily to Linux and MacOS. You can also use it from within Windows Media Player; see Eclipse's web site for instructions if you want to do that.

It plays MP3 and WMA files.

To put files on it, connect it to your computer via its USB cable and turn it on. Your computer will see it as a disk drive. Ignore any complaints about missing device drivers.

As a first step, I suggest grabbing the files that are already on the MP3 player and saving them in a directory on your PC. Most of them are songs, and one is apparently a piece of PC software that gives you some free downloads. Having done this, you are free to delete any files on the player at any time.

Put some MP3 or WMA files on it. If your computer isn't showing the file name extension (.mp3 or .wma) then press and release Alt to show the menu (not necessary in XP); go to Tools, Folder Options, View, and uncheck Hide Extensions.

There are buttons on the player for volume up and down (+ and -), forward, reverse, and pause/play. And don't forget the on/off switch. One other thing... the battery in the player charges through the USB cable when the player is attached to the computer and turned on. I have no idea how long it takes to charge; I left mine on all night.

I am somewhat unsure how the player determines the order in which to play the songs. I think, but am not 100% sure, that the songs always play in the order in which they are listed in the player's directory. If all of them were copied at once, then this will be the order in which they were copied. It is nearly impossible to get Windows to tell you what this order is, but it's easy from a command prompt. Supposing the player is drive F (Windows will tell you its drive letter when you connect it), simply type dir f: /p and there they are.

If you press the play/pause button for 5 seconds before switching the player off, it will remember where it was, and resume playing the same song at the same point when you turn it back on again.

You can use Windows Media Player to "rip" (convert) audio CDs to computer files in WMA or MP3 format.

Handy hint for audio atavists

If I'd thought of this 40 years ago, I could have written it up for Electronics Illustrated. A mirror coaster is just the thing to put right under the tape heads of an open reel tape deck, so that you can see that you're doing when cleaning the heads and rollers. (If you play old tapes nowadays, you have to do a cleaning after nearly every tape; they shed a lot.)


Getting an anniversary right
It was November 8, 1975, not November 25

For many years Melody and I have had it in our heads (mainly on my personal authority) that we met on Saturday, November 25, 1975, at a University of Georgia program for National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. I told the whole story here, back in 2004.

Recently I became suspicious of the accuracy of my own memory. November 25 is too close to Thanksgiving. Also, a look at a calendar told me November 25 wasn't a Saturday.

On Christmas day I found time to dig out my private journal from 1975 (which is never going to be read by anyone but me; instructions on the box say so, and anyhow, parts of it are in Latin and even Greek).

The date was November 8, 1975. In fact, the entry for that date even told me where I had filed the program, which you see below. My present next-door neighbor, John Granrose, was one of the speakers. Melody and I were in Tour Group B.

At the top, you see a picture of Melody as she looked then. This is a newspaper photo taken when she was chosen STAR Student of Barrow County just a short time earlier. In fact, she sent me a newspaper clipping of this picture, so it was the first picture of her that I possessed.

Incidentally, in looking back at my journal, I can confirm what C. S. Lewis said about his — it is little help if you want to write an autobiography, because when you're writing a journal, you have no idea what is going to be important. (I have hundreds of pages of trivialities.) But it is good for confirming dates and places.


Feast Day of the Nativity of Jesus Christ

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40 (KJV)

Merry Christmas Eve!

The house is full of women (Melody, Cathy, Sharon) wrapping presents, and I have been exiled to my upstairs work room, which is where the best computer is...

Let me give everyone some early Christmas presents in the form of links to handy free software.

CDBurnerXP is an all-purpose CD- and DVD-burning package for Windows (XP, Vista, and 7, 32- and 64-bit). Basically it exposes the API that is already in the operating system, so you can see what is going on. It's a lot like Nero or Roxio CD-burning tools, but free.

Desktop Restore is the modern way to save and restore the layout of icons on your desktop. It is much better than the Save Desktop utility formerly distributed by Microsoft (LAYOUT.DLL), and it works in 64-bit Windows 7 (as well as earlier versions). Desktop Restore keeps separate records for different screen formats, so that if you switch video modes or use Remote Desktop, you don't garble things.

Winsplit Revolution is what you need if you have a new-style wide screen. It lets you maximize windows by sending them to full height but not full width! That is, the shape of the individual windows can remain reasonable even though the screen is wider than the eye can take in. It also lets you preset other window sizes and shapes, and change the current window to any of them at the press of a key. (Recommended by Cathy, who has a wide screen.)

One happy note: My late lamented Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 is being brought back to life by a gentleman in Missouri who makes a specialty of repairing this model. Almost everything in it will be replaced, and then he'll salvage parts from the old one. When it comes back, assuming the repair is a success, I'll tell you more about this.

Merry Christmas Eve!


Information retrieval book

Please excuse me if I disappear for a while... I've just found that I can read Manning, Raghavan and Schütze's Introduction to Information Retrieval on line.

Information retrieval is the science and art of matching up documents with requests. Going beyond Google-style word and phrase matching, a sophisticated information retrieval (IR) system can recognize related expressions that don't match exactly, solving what I call the "pachyderm problem" (if you are asking for pachyderms, you also want elephants, whether or not you know it). There are various mathematical methods of comparing texts with each other... and that's what the bulk of IR is about.


The health insurance bill

It was a quiet day at the lab, except that the fire alarm went off three times, apparently due to construction work on another floor.

Speaking of alarming matters, it looks as if the health insurance bill will pass. The proposed programs are going to run into economic problems and will have to be amended, but one good thing has emerged: health insurance is being turned back into insurance.

The purpose of insurance is to manage risk by pooling people together, not to bet on the outcomes of individuals. And that's the trouble — too many people can't get insurance because they have pre-existing conditions. As medical testing progresses, and especially genetic testing, almost everybody is going to have a pre-existing condition.

Also, health insurance is needlessly tied to employment, so people lose their insurance when they're between jobs.

To make insurance affordable and useful, we have to (1) cover everybody, and (2) require everyone to buy insurance. It's (2) that pays for (1). So regardless of how you feel about your precious freedom, I think that if you go uninsured, you're burdening your neighbors, both by depriving the insurance pool of your contributions, and by constantly threatening to impose huge costs on the local hospital, which won't turn you away in an emergency.

That's what insurance is for — pooling of risk. Anything too closely tied to your (known) medical condition isn't insurance, it's prepaid health care.

There are right-wingers who strongly object to paying a penny toward anyone else's health care. I wonder if it has occurred to them that, when they buy car or house insurance, they're paying other people's claims, not just their own. That's how insurance works.

Also, although I believe in a free market and private property, I do not believe that "every man for himself" is a sound moral principle. Bad things do happen to people. Insurance, even compulsory insurance, is a compassionate way to help them.


Is December 25 the birthday of Jesus?

What famous person on the stage of history was born on December 25?

Sir Isaac Newton, of course. Not Jesus Christ, as far as we know. The Bible is silent as to his date of birth but seems to describe springtime conditions (with shepherds watching their sheep by night).

But December 25 is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Does this mean they're discredited?

Not at all. A key historical fact, which I didn't realize until very recently, is that people in the ancient world didn't pay much attention to anniversaries. They would pick a day arbitrarily to commemorate something or someone important (as we did, for instance, with Memorial Day). So the birth of Christ is celebrated on December 25, a date chosen partly to compete with various pagan festivals near the same time of year.

(And no, it won't do to say that Christmas "is really" a pagan festival. As far as we can determine, the early Christians very consciously chose a date to conflict with Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Not for a moment were the pagan festivals equated or confused with the Christian one.)

Now you know. Merry Christmas!

By the way, Coca-Cola boxes say "Holiday 2009" in English but "Merry Christmas 2009" in Spanish. Hmmm... Some people are going to get the idea that December 25 honors Doc Holliday!


Miscellany, mostly economic

I feel I should be writing a big, organized Notebook entry with pictures of something important, but that's not to be. We had a long day; Sharon underwent surgical repair of a bunion this morning (Dec. 18) and I stayed home to help take care of her. Fortunately, the surgery went very well.

Are you overworked yet? Something I'm hearing from people in all walks of life is that suddenly there is more demand for work, but only a reduced workforce is available to do it. Certainly, judging from industry contacts received at the Institute for AI and at Covington Innovations, the economy is picking up nicely.

Read your mail: Preparing for new regulations, credit card issuers are sending out notices of new rate structures, usually prime rate plus something. The prime rate is currently abnormally low, about 3.25%; 8% is normal. Accordingly, prime plus 9.5% is a good rate, and prime plus 22% is very bad. But not the worst; there is actually a credit card with a 79.9% APR.

Another strange thing to accuse Christians of: Causing the economic crash. I'm going to study this one and come back to it, but my impression is that the "prosperity gospel" is not a large part of popular Christianity, nor was it the cause of the bubble and downturn. It simply doesn't involve enough people.

Or if it does, it still isn't Christianity. The American tradition of totally independent churches makes it easy to get a group of people together in a church building to worship anything, even money. We know what Jesus thought about that.


Short, random notes

Medical name puns: How many notorious inadvertent or semi-inadvertent medical puns are there that involve people's names? I just saw (in the library) a book on endocrine pathology by someone named Bloodworth. For a long time I've known about the pioneer neurology books by Sir Henry Head and someone named Brain, and the liquid diet invented by Dr. Sippy. What else is out there?

Worst idea I've seen all day: Blippy, a social networking site like Twitter except that it tells all your friends about each of your credit-card purchases in real time. Why do some people crave lack of privacy so much?

End of the scanner era: My Nikon Coolscan III LS-30 slide scanner, which served me so well for so long, came back from Nikon today marked as unrepairable (parts no longer available). Slide and film scanning with my Canon 8800 flatbed scanner is almost as good, and it's a much less expensive instrument.

For really high quality, I suppose I'll utilize a gadget that I call the Rube Goldberg Memorial Slide Duplicator (remember Rube Goldberg?). It started life as an Olympus bellows slide duplicator setup — Melody and I bought most of it at Sunset Photo in Hollywood in 1983, to prepare pictures for the first edition of Astrophotography for the Amateur. Over the years we upgraded it to a flat-field 80-mm lens (from the original 50/3.5) and added an Olympus reverse T-ring and a Nikon T-ring. If I change that last element to a Canon T-ring, I can put my best DSLR on it and snap away. Or I may just get this and put it on the front of a macro lens on a DSLR.


Farewell to the old Timothy Road Elementary School

On the morning of Tuesday the 15th, while Cathy was taking her last exam as an undergraduate, wreckers tore down the first elementary school that she had attended. A new Timothy Road Elementary School was built behind the old one a couple of years ago. The old building was torn down because it had a cracked, buckling foundation. Above you see a cell-phone photo that I snapped last week, the last time I saw it standing.

According to the newspaper, the original Timothy Road Elementary School was built around 1971, but some people say 1978, and I'm not sure; 1978 seems right to me. (School colors, green and white; mascot, the Timothy Roadrunner.) By happenstance we have a newspaper clipping of my mother attending some kind of public meeting in its auditorium around 1980. Cathy started kindergarten there, if I calculate correctly, in the fall of 1992. Sharon came along four years later.

It was an unusually good public school, one of the best we've seen. (It still is, as far as I know.) Its high quality led to a building boom in the area. If people want to preserve property values, they should agitate for good public schools!

On Friday morning, I will pick up two bricks from the demolished structure and present one of them to each daughter.



We survived December 15, the multi-deadline.

Most importantly, it was Cathy's last day as an undergraduate. By lunch, she had completed all the requirements for her degree, which will be conferred on Friday. The previous evening, we took down the art exhibit, and I have more pictures of it.

Congratulations, Cathy! May God bless the path you have before you.

At work, I completed a large software development contract. That is, a company had hired the University, and specifically my lab, to develop something for them, and now it's done. We will of course continue doing research in the same area.

And I submitted a lot of recommendations for students who are applying for Ph.D. programs. This is a quick online process. Fortunately, nowadays they don't ask us to fill out a multi-page quiz about each student; instead we just upload a letter.

I'll have a lot more news when things settle down.



Is there anything for which December 15 is not the deadline?


Snakes on a hypercube, and other topics

Have a look at the latest IAI newsletter, edited and largely written by... guess who.


Be a photographer, save lives

If you have photographic talent, you can save a lot of lives — of dogs and cats — by helping your local animal shelter or humane society. They normally have a web page showing animals for adoption. The quality of the pictures makes a big difference in determining whether a dog or cat is adopted or euthanized. What they need is someone who can take pictures with appeal, or at least pictures that are always optically and technically good, rather than just hasty snapshots.

Cathy pointed this out to me. It is an excellent community service opportunity for photographically talented high-school students.

I wish you all a blessed third Sunday in Advent. As in a couple of previous years, I let the first two Sundays of Advent slip right by me, largely because of writing material in advance without thinking of what date would go on it. For detailed, edifying Advent and Christmas blog entries, see 2004.


Cosmo the parrot

The speech of a remarkably intelligent African Grey parrot is being studied by one of my graduate students. Cosmo the parrot has his own web site and video collection. Have a look!

Cathy's art show is ending early due to what I can only describe as clumsy management of the gallery. Saturday, Dec. 12, is probably the last full day.

Speaking of management, here is Gretzky's Maxim:

Skate to where the hockey puck is going to be, not where it has been.

Words to live by!


More musings about the economy

At risk of boring all of you to death, let me point out a few things about the economy, which (in my opinion) is switching rather rapidly into recovery mode now...

Housing anti-bubble: I'm amused at the inability of Zillow, Cyberhomes, and other online services to agree as to the value of my house. (No, I'm not selling the house! But economic indicators begin at home... I might as well watch the market in the locale I know best.)

I think the truth is that we're in an anti-bubble — instead of a frenzy of buying, we now have a frenzy of not buying. That is, we don't have a market, in the usual form. External factors prevent people from buying and selling houses in the normal manner, and the proof of it is that so many houses are "valued" lower than the cost of construction, and lower than the nominal 15 years' rent.

This implies that housing appraisals are close to meaningless at the moment because it's unduly hard to sell a house at all, regardless of price. And Zillow is correct to throw up its hands and refuse to cover Athens, Georgia, at all.

[A further problem with Zillow is that someone sold a whole apartment building for millions of dollars and it got into their database with the square footage of just one apartment, so they are showing an "average price per square foot" over $1000, even though foreclosed houses sell for as low as $50 per square foot, and normal ones, about $90. So their computer is very confused.]

At this point I'm starting to imagine an army of economists wanting to tell me that what I've said is nonsense, that by definition there is a price low enough to sell anything. Are they right?

An encouraging statistic: The total net worth of American households went up 5% in one quarter. (And that's in a time of near-zero inflation, so it represents a real gain.) It's attributed to the stock-market recovery, the partial real-estate recovery, and perhaps even the new "culture of thrift."

I said not to buy gold, and sure enough, its price seems to have peaked about a week ago and has fallen substantially since then.


The banking system is broken ... and the Internet, too

It has been argued that the existence of Paypal (for instance) is proof that the American banking system is broken. Tradition-bound, it doesn't provide the services that people most need. It charges more for things that cost less (like transferring funds electronically vs. processing a paper check). It makes too much of its money from penalty fees rather than ordinary operations. And it has a reputation for pulling dirty tricks on customers whose business it ought to value.

(I hasten to add that the problems are not universal; some of us know where to get good service in spite of it all. But the basic presuppositions and infrastructure seem to be twisted in the wrong direction.)

I would argue that the Internet is broken too:

  • Costs don't fall upon the people who choose to consume resources.

    If it cost even a tenth of a cent to send an e-mail, there would be no spam. Instead, you pay money to have an account to receive e-mail.
  • There is normally very little authentication of who you are or where you're transmitting from.

    The Net still works the way it worked in computer labs thirty years ago — it just assumes every machine and person is telling the truth about its or his or her identity. We need a system where you can normally tell exactly where every data packet came from, and if people want to transmit anonymously, the recipients know they're doing it.

Will anyone get around to fixing either of these things in my lifetime?

Head full

If I seem preoccupied right now, it's because my head is stuffed full of a 300-page computer program (that's 300 pages, not 300 lines!) on which I'm putting the finishing touches.


No news today

I'm too busy doing real work... Read something else today, and I'll see you tomorrow!


The day the economy turned around?

I'm beginning to think December 4 will be remembered as the day the economic downturn started to thaw. There has been a flurry of encouraging economic indicators since then (including, alarmingly, a rise in consumer debt), and locally and personally, I'm seeing evidence of an upturn. It's not going to be 2005 again, but there is ground for guarded optimism.


Two short econ-observations


Everyone who is interested in the culture of personal finance should be acquainted with the work of Thomas J. Stanley (a UGA alumnus!), whose main research discovery is that rich people don't spend much money (who would have guessed?). Seriously, he has documented, in detail, the fact that people who are building wealth usually aren't displaying it. Many people constantly spend themselves broke trying to act rich, imagining that people won't respect them if they don't have status symbols.

Jeff Duntemann points out the obvious: Unsophisticated people want to live like TV-show characters; they think that's how "you're supposed to" live.

Another interesting strand in our new "culture of thrift" comes from Joel "Scrooge" Waldfogel of the Wharton School. His claim is that the practice of buying Christmas presents can be wasteful, in a very specific way: for every dollar you spend, the recipient may not get anywhere near a dollar's worth of enjoyment, and neither will you.

Many years ago C. S. Lewis (definitely no economist, but a keen observer of human nature) made a similar observation (click and read the whole essay — it's one of the grumpiest ones old C.S.L. ever wrote).

Cathy, however, advocates baking cookies as Christmas presents. Low cost and certain satisfaction!


Adverse advertising


Am I the only person who thinks it reflects badly on a company when their advertising mainly disparages a competitor's product, rather than promoting their own?

For some time I've been annoyed with Apple for their "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" ads, whose only message is that "PCs" (of what brand?) are no good. These ads have been criticized as factually misleading as well as mean-spirited.

Now Hewlett-Packard has joined the negative-advertising club with a surprisingly brazen campaign against Kodak printers. Sample below... note the imitation of Kodak's trademark and colors.

Is this supposed to make me think more highly of Hewlett-Packard? It doesn't. It doesn't even assert that HP's printers are good ones!

Avoid comics.com today — it has malware. Something there was purportedly performing a "scan" (similar to this) and wouldn't let me close my web browser. It was definitely not my own antivirus program. I had to kill the process in Task Manager.

Another timely warning: E-mailed "greeting cards" are usually fake, so the point that I've never received a real one, but I get fake ones (with viruses or links to malware sites) every day. Do not click on a link that arrives in e-mail and claims to be a greeting card. And, friends, please don't sent me e-cards because I will not open them.


Catherine Anne Covington, BFA

There's nothing quite like seeing your own child's name neatly lettered on the wall of a crowded art gallery. Although Cathy's degree won't be conferred for a couple of weeks, she has opened her exit show at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, which is part of a large exhibition by art students who are graduating this semester. It was actually the first time I had seen the School of Art's new building; the ceramics department is still in the old building, and Cathy's studio is the room that used to be the photographic darkroom where Melody worked in 1978.

Her degree is in ceramics, and her works are mostly large-scale sculptures of animals. I'll let the pictures, and especially the artist's statement at the bottom, speak for themselves.

P.S. The exhibit is on through December 14.


Short notes

Today (Dec. 4) at 3:30 I'm giving, at UGA, the linguistics-and-schizophrenia lecture that I gave at Emory last month. Room 328, Boyd GSRC. Come one, come all!

Today also is Cathy's exit show (scroll down). Again, come one, come all!

In a couple of weeks I get to change programming languages. I've realized with a shudder that almost all my serious software development since 2002 (yes, 2002) has been in C#. I've continued to teach Prolog, of course, but haven't used it for a big project. Now I'm about to dive deep into Python (which I've used casually) because I'll be using it for a course.

If I like Python as much as other people do, this move may have far-reaching consequences. C# is the only thing really tying me to Microsoft Windows.

Econo-news: In case you don't read the newspapers: This morning the BLS reported the first drop in the unemployment rate since more than a year ago. And that's a seasonally adjusted figure.

Speaking of newspapers, in recent weeks both CNN and Reuters have redesigned their web pages to make them (in my opinion) harder to read. (Maybe they imagine we all have super-wide screens.) Now I'm reading my news on Bloomberg. See how fickle, I mean how efficient, the market is?


You're invited

For an art student, the exit show is much more important than the graduation ceremony. Accordingly, The University of Georgia, and especially Cathy, Melody, and I, request the pleasure of your company at Cathy's exit show and reception:

It's a display of ceramics, including some large sculptures of animals. You'll be impressed; I know I was, and I haven't even seen them all yet.

Congratulations, Cathy!


The world's most famous Basque song

Remember the song "Eres Tú," which topped the charts in 1974 and has been a standard ever since?

The group that sang it, Mocedades, has Basque roots and also sang it in Basque. You can hear it here:

And also here (I'm not sure if this is the same performance):

Reportedly, the Spanish version came first, and the song was accused of being a ripoff of a Yugoslavian song that, in my opinion, only intermittently resembles it:

Now you know. And no, I don't know Basque, nor even Slovenian (which I am told is the language of the Yugoslav song, rather than the usual Serbo-Croatian). But I want to thank my old friend Alfonso Ruiz for leading me to Mocedades in Basque. The Basque language is certainly pleasant-sounding, to judge from one song.


Speaking engagements

Tuesday, December 1, 2009: "Natural Language Processing: An Overview," to CSCI/PHIL 4550/6550 class, 2:00 p.m., Room 200B, Geography-Geology Bldg., The University of Georgia.

Friday, December 4, 2009: "Linguistics, Schizophrenia, and Computers," Computer Science Department Colloquium, 3:30 p.m., Room 328, Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center, The University of Georgia.

Monday, December 7, 2009: "Pictures in Your Thesis: Computer Graphics for Graduate Students," to ARTI 8800 seminar, 12:15 p.m., Room 111, Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center, The University of Georgia.


A rant against rants: I continue to be dismayed by how gullible some so-called conservatives are. Someone was telling me the other day that "Congress will just ignore the presidential term limits and keep voting Obama in, over and over again." It doesn't work that way, folks, and I don't know why anybody would imagine that it does. But some people will believe anything with Obama's name in it.

And then there's the "birther" movement, which ignores the obvious fact that even if you could disqualify Obama on a technicality, that wouldn't erase the fact that an awful lot of people voted for him. I disagree with a good bit of Obama's politics but have no patience with people trying to spread wild rumors about how he's a one-man evil conspiracy. He's not even our most left-wing president (that was FDR).

Scams: Check out some timely warnings from Jeff Duntemann. And beware of the "mugged in London" scam — you get a Facebook message from a friend who was robbed in a foreign city and needs money. Actually, his Facebook (or e-mail) account was cracked and you're getting mail from a thief.

Black Friday: My contact with the shopping frenzy was very brief. I had to go to Best Buy on Black Friday to get a disk drive. I was in and out in 7 minutes, and that was without hurrying. The parking lot at Toys 'R' Us next door, however, was a circus. That is apparently where the easily-manipulated people congregate.

Back to the old roads, again: There are two routes from Athens to Emory University's Clairmont Campus. The new route is down Highway 316 to I-85 and Clairmont Road. The old route is down 316 to U.S. 78, which becomes Scott Boulevard, and then a right on North Decatur Road and another on Clairmont Road.

I tried them both when I made a round-trip yesterday. Guess what? They are within 2 miles of the same length and took within 2 minutes of the same amount of time. Highway 316 is a "freeway" with traffic lights and can get quite gummed up in Gwinnett County. Highway 78 is slow (45 mph) for a long stretch, but you actually go 45 there without stopping, and there are considerably faster stretches, especially the Stone Mountain Freeway and the area east of Monroe, where there is virtually no traffic.

This pertains to all parts of Athens because the routes are the same until the point where 316 and 78 diverge, west of town. If you're heading to Emory's main campus instead of Clairmont Campus, the "old" route is about a mile shorter.

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