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Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
Quicken and phantom downloaded transactions
How to get fountain pen ink off your fingers
Selectric II with Typit II
Event 1509, roaming users, cookie problems
Trouble burning CDs and DVDs in Windows 7
Moon (enhanced color)
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!


How a Selectric dies

This sprocket is the heart of a Selectric typewriter — that is, it is the most failure-prone vital organ and is no longer available as a replacement part, nor is a used (salvaged) one likely to have much life left in it.

The one you see isn't from one of my typewriters. It's from one that was junked many years ago. The crack in it is of course the problem. Hairline cracks in the small-diameter portion are common and can last a long time without giving trouble. But when the crack spreads to the big portion, which engages a toothed rubber belt, you have trouble. First the typewriter starts going "tic-tic-tic" instead of just humming. Then the belt starts slipping, and it's time to look for a new typewriter. (Note however that a "tic-tic-tic" sound can have other causes that are much more benign.)

The sprocket is on the main shaft, near the very center of the typewriter, and it can be viewed without too much disassembly.

Incidentally, a Selectric is 100% mechanical, including its mechanical digital-to-analog converter that computes the typeball position from a binary number formed by tabs on pieces of metal. It uses the motor only to turn one shaft. The work of the motor can be done by a hand crank (and is, during repair work).

I learned all this from Don Buechler of University of Georgia TEC Services, which repairs not only the University's typewriters (there's still one in nearly every department) but also personally owned equipment for members of the University community. They also fix computers, laser printers, and other modern gadgets, of course.

There is, by the way, a Yahoo Group devoted to Selectric typewriter repair; it's called golfballtypewritershop.


We're really out of the recession, so everybody, please go back to work...

Adobe's generosity: Did you know you can download any Adobe CS4 product and use it for 30 days free of charge? That has surely gotten lots of graphic artists out of a tight spot at one time or another. (Such as Melody, right now.) You can't install it again on the same computer unless you buy a serial number. (I can think of lots of ways to get around that, but I don't want to abuse Adobe's generosity.)

Facebook observation: On looking at some Facebook pages that are open forums, a long way from my personal circle of friends, I see that there is a lot of real illiteracy out there. Much of the Facebook crowd writes with no punctuation, idiosyncratic abbreviations, and (worst) random word substitutions such as "over" for "oven" (presumably because a spelling checker accepts any correctly spelled word). Some of this is quite hard to read, and in places, totally impossible.



Things that are made for, and marketed to, collectors do not increase in value. Or as the authors of Nassau Street (a book about stamp collecting) said many years ago, "Cheap stamps never become rare." That is, if something doesn't start out rare, it never will be. "Limited edition" does not make for rarity. Rare items are usually things whose rarity was not noticed until some time after they came out. [Or things that people weren't inclined to preserve at the time, such as old comic books.]

Speaking of rarity, I've acquired a set of Selectric type elements several of which were custom-made by GP Technologies for the Aetna Insurance Company and have AE as a ligature. Don't know what I'll do with them... Of the set of 17, there are about three that I actually will use, and the way eBay works, that made the whole set a bargain.

Did you know that the typeface Courier (used on typewriters) is related to Napoleon's adventures in Egypt? Click through and read the connection.

And Windows 7 has a special mode for software developers in which you get a lot of control settings consolidated into a single menu.



No contextual ads here

The Covington Innovations web site has a few paid advertisements, especially on the fountain pen page. But in response to an offer that I received the other day, I've decided not to accept contextual ads.

A "contextual ad" is a paid hyperlink. An advertising agency contacted me and asked me to make slight changes in the wording of a few web pages and insert links to their paying clients.

I won't do that, for two reasons:

(1) My integrity. On my web pages you are reading my opinions. Advertisements need to be kept entirely separate from my own writings.

(2) The advertiser's integrity. The offers that I received were for major companies. However, if I'm linking to something outside my own site, who knows whether it might change to pornography or some other kind of obnoxiousness when I'm not looking?

So... No contextual ads here.


Why people are so touchy about abortion

I am dismayed at the number of people and organizations who are demanding that CBS not show a Super Bowl ad in which Tim Tebow's mother says she's glad she didn't have an abortion.

Nothing gruesome, nothing preachy, just one person's story — which her critics think she ought not to be allowed to tell because it will "dictate morality to the public" (their words, and a very strange objection).

What's going on here? Abortion is controversial; why can't people talk about it and debate the issue? This isn't the first time I've heard "pro-choicers" demanding that "pro-lifers" simply be silenced.

I think I know the answer. A lot of people have had abortions, or arranged abortions, and are afraid to examine the issue because they're afraid of concluding they did something wrong.

If reason were really on the "pro-choice" side, shouldn't they be clamoring for open discussion and debate?


Voices and whistles from 1890

On the afternoon of Jan. 26 I went to a lecture by my fellow faculty member John Maltese about this collection of historic recordings, made by a wealthy gadgeteer named Julius Block who had one of the first Edison phonographs in Europe, and who held soirées for musicians and other notable people.

What did I learn? Among other things, that Tchaikovsky could whistle very elegantly — but I didn't recognize the tune he was whistling; maybe he made it up on the spot.


Trouble burning CDs and DVDs in Windows 7

Symptom: In Windows 7 64-bit, on a computer with an Intel-chipset motherboard, Windows Explorer won't burn DVDs in Mastered Mode (the window simply closes with no action), and CD/DVD-burning software such as old reliable CDBurnerXP says you have no supported drive, even though you do.


(1) Get the latest Intel Matrix Storage Manager update. I got mine from Dell Support, but you can also get it from Intel.

(2) "Install" it, which simply unpacks a group of files into a folder.

(3) Right-click on My Computer, Manage, Device Manager, and under IDE/ATA ATAPI controllers, find the AHCI controller.

(4) Right-click on the AHCI controller, choose Update Driver, and tell your computer to look at the files you unpacked in step (2).

(5) Reboot twice. Cured!

For once, a good idea from the Legislature

In the midst of Georgia's budget shortfalls, there's a proposal to raise the tobacco tax. Excellent idea! It has always been traditional (even before there were health concerns) to tax tobacco heavily because it's not a necessity. But Georgia's tobacco taxes are presently some of the lowest in the entire world.


More typewriter lore

This is not typed with a typewriter -- it just looks like it, at least if your computer has the right font installed.

Another Selectric II is on its way to me, far cheaper, of course, than the one I bought in 1975. This one is what I really wanted back then -- one with all the options on it, especially dual pitch and correcting. We'll use it to type forms and envelopes. The key idea here is that handwriting hasn't gone away, so the need for a neat substitute for handwriting, as a way to write on existing pieces of paper, hasn't gone away either. After twenty years of trying to do without typewriters, I give up on giving up.

If you learned to type on computers, you may not realize that typewriters don't have as many keys. The ASCII characters ` ~ ^ { } [ ] | \ < > are missing, and older typewriters also lack 1 (the digit) and ! (the exclamation mark). For these you are supposed to type l (lowercase L) or I, and overtype ' and . respectively. On the other hand, typewriters usually have the cent sign ¢ and one or two fractions such as ¼ and ½.

The IBM Selectric III, which came to market after the typewriter era had peaked, has a slightly larger character set, mainly so that lawyers and literary scholars can have [ and ] without giving up ! and 1. The result? Selectric III typeballs don't fit the Selectric I and II, and vice versa, and nowadays, the people reselling them don't know which is which.

New horizons in bad writing?

(1) The word infinitely seems to have come into vogue again. Please note that "infinitely" does not mean "very." "Infinitely" is not an appropriate description of anything finite.

(2) If you have good advice to give out, there's nothing like hanging it upon gimmicks which are themselves hung on misconceptions. Here is someone who wrapped some moderately good financial advice in a cloak of fad-diet folklore.


We need to stop telling our children...

I recently came across a large and growing collection of war stories from ambulance crews and firefighters. One thing they agree on: Don't call the fire department to get your cat down from a tree. Cats always climb down by themselves when the agitated humans go away. (After all, you never see a cat skeleton in a tree, do you?) And you've tied up people who could have been putting out fires.

Why do people call the fire department to get cats out of trees? Because, as a child, everybody has heard of it being done and thinks it's a reasonable thing to do.

We need to remove this particular notion from our collective consciousness. Elementary-school teachers of America, take note.


Two humps, like an Asian camel

Business is picking up, and my schedule now has two humps per week, an academic one around Wednesday and a consulting one around Saturday. So the Daily Notebook may be a bit thin for a while.


Today's news...

Today's news consists of updates to some recent items. Scroll down and look for them.


Hump day

My schedule this semester has a very pronounced hump on Wednesday, which means that the Notebook entries for Thursdays (such as this one) are going to be a bit scant.


Short notes


Dent removal is not the same as body shop work: One of our cars got a fairly large but shallow dent in it, and we were shopping for repairs. High-class body shop, $900. Discount body shop, $500. Dent removal shop (highly recommended, regularly used by an insurance company), $200 or less. The difference? The two body shops want to do a lot of painting; the dent remover will pull or press the dent out without painting. Economically speaking, the difference is whether you want it perfectly good as new (because somebody else is paying) or you just want it to look undamaged.

Result? Very successful. We highly recommend Dent Removal Plus, on the west side of Athens, Georgia. A friend who is an automotive engineer points out that it's better to avoid painting, because new paint will never match old paint (if it seems to match, it still won't age the same way).

Typing: I had no idea what a flood of memories would be triggered by typing on the Selectric again. For several years, I expressed more thoughts on paper (via that typewriter) than in any other way. The tactile experience is quite different from any computer. I'm thinking of picking up another typewriter secondhand to use at home for typing labels and envelopes. Is anybody out there looking for a new home for a Selectric or maybe IBM Wheelwriter, preferably one of the smaller (narrower) ones, ideally 10 pitch (for address labels)?


Arithmetic award?

Today's arithmetic award goes to somebody who wrote to the Atlanta paper to ask why the UN was raising 550 million dollars to help 3 million earthquake victims in Haiti. "That's 187 million dollars per person!" (No...)

By the way, I hope all of you have done something to help the people of Haiti. It is always best to contribute to a church or charity that you are already familiar with, not something new that appears suddenly and solicits your donations.


Short notes

The final implementing regulations for the new credit card law are slightly more consumer-friendly than the card issuers anticipated. They can't say, "Your rate is prime plus X, but will never go below Y." It has to be either fixed or prime-plus-X; the two don't mix. Also, it's the end of the FICO era because card issuers are required to consider income and/or assets, which aren't shown on the FICO score. Sometimes you really do have to say, "Don't eat rocks."

I would appreciate feedback from anyone who can tell me whether WiX is as good as it sounds. It's a freeware tool for making Windows installer (.msi) files, and it came from Microsoft via SourceForge (which is almost like saying, "My ancestors immigrated from England via Fiji").

Some excellent TV: Terry Jones' Medieval Lives, dispelling misinformation about the Middle Ages. If you think Christopher Columbus faced serious opposition from people who thought the earth was flat, you've been miseducated (mainly by people who wanted you to believe nobody had any brains before 1800 or so). That's just one example...


On the role of the Athletic Association

For good reasons, the Athletic Association is a self-funded organization financially separate from the University. It has plenty of money, while the University is furloughing faculty.

Would it be a good idea to forbid the Athletic Association from receiving donations? (I have heard of such policies, somewhere, but have no details.)

Right now the Athletic Association solicits, and gets, copious donations, but I see no reason why it should; it has a steady income from ticket sales and TV; it is not a charitable foundation; and most importantly, in my opinion, it siphons potential donations away from the University itself.

People say, "Those donations help the University because they pay tuition for the student athletes." Wrong. If you send us a student and pay his tuition, we aren't making a profit. I almost said "we break even," but actually, we lose money. We're a state university, which means that tuition is subsidized. That's why we're here — to deliver an education without charging you the full cost of it.


A sad farewell

We mourn the passing of Bob Stearns, who was pre-eminent among the University of Georgia's computer programmers from 1968 until his retirement in 2005. I was happy to have had him as a mentor and (at one time) somewhat awed to have him as a graduate student!

Brother HL-5370DW printer

Recommended: Brother HL-5370DW wireless network printer. It duplexes; it prints at high resolution; it supports PCL and PostScript; it emulates the LaserJet, Proprinter, and a couple of others in case you don't have a Brother driver; it will tell you how much toner is left in the cartridge; it supports a lot of network protocols; and it's easy to set up. You can use the install disk if you want to, but the procedure I followed was simpler:

(1) Temporarily connect it to your wired network as if it were a computer. Give it a moment to get DHCP-served. Press Go 3 times in rapid succession to make it print its status pages. Read the IP address.

(2) HTTP to that IP address, and give the username and password from the instruction book. The web interface is very versatile. You'll want to change the administrator password and put in the WEP key and other parameters for your wireless network. Also, probably, set a fixed IP address. Then turn on wireless networking and HTTP to it again, wirelessly, to make sure you've successfully done so.

(3) Tell each of your PCs to install a new network printer. (They'll see this one through at least two different protocols; take your choice.) When asked for drivers, tell it to search on the installation CD, or copy the drivers to a shared folder and get them from there.

This is a much more sophisticated printer than competing Hewlett-Packard products with which I am familiar. I'm impressed, especially by the web interface.

Short notes

Quicken fixed it: The data integrity problem that I pointed out has been corrected in Quicken 2010 Release 5. No user action required, except to update and reconcile each account.

Recommended: SunTrust Free Business Checking. Genuinely free, no minimums. We switched Covington Innovations to this type of account last month.

Recommended: Local surplus dealer KP's Surplus. You can tell we're in a recession — the surplus market is starting to become good.


Roaming users can't log on
Event 1509 on files in Cookies\Low

Solved — see below.

For the past several days, our server at the Institute has been refusing to let me log on as a roaming user. The problem was intermittent and hard to reproduce. The log on the server showed nothing of interest. The Application log on my workstation showed repeated Event 1509 errors reporting inability to write on files in C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\Low.

It is the problem described here, and I hope the person who posted it there won't mind if I quote the whole error message as he found it in his log:

Event Type: Error
Event Source: Userenv
Event Category: None
Event ID: 1509
Date: 19.08.2008
Time: 13:43:47
User: domain\username
Computer: computername
Windows cannot copy file 
to location C:\Documents and Settings\username\Cookies\username@track.adform[1].txt. 
Possible causes of this error include network problems or insufficient security rights. 
If this problem persists, contact your network administrator.

DETAIL - Access is denied.

Note: That's from Windows XP.  The file path will be different under Vista and Windows 7.

Event Type: Error
Event Source: Userenv
Event Category: None
Event ID: 1500
Date: 19.08.2008
Time: 13:43:48
User: domain\username
Computer: computername
Windows cannot log you on because your profile cannot be loaded. Check that you are 
connected to the network, or that your network is functioning correctly. If this problem 
persists, contact your network administrator.

A few things to note:

  • Cookies and Cookies\Low are protected system folders and won't be visible to you unless you uncheck "Hide protected operating system files" in Tools, Folder Options. Or go to the command prompt and type

    attrib /s c:\users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\*

    to see what's there.
  • The afflicted cookies are generally of the adware/spyware type — not seriously harmful, but some security software objects to them.

As a workaround, I've set Internet Explorer 8 security from "Medium" to "Medium-High" and the number of cookies that it acquires has fallen dramatically. I've also set it to delete cookies and temporary Internet files every time I exit.

I have only an educated guess as to what the real problem is. The clue is that I was examining these cookie files on the server and they started disappearing right out from under me — I would right-click on one in the Explorer window to see its properties, and it would vanish. I think what is happening is that the antivirus software on the server is deleting the file, or trying to, on the ground that it is malware and this happens while it's being copied to the workstation. Why does it happen at that moment? Because F-Secure Antivirus checks files at the moment they are opened by any program or process.

That was apparently right. According to IAI lab technician Ananta Palani: "After many, many tests, it appears that F-Secure on [the server] was locking certain cookies in people's profiles. These cookies are standard user tracking cookies used by advertising companies including Microsoft... The solution was to uncheck 'Block tracking cookies' under the 'Antispyware' tab of the 'Real-time scanning' configuration section of F-Secure on [the server]. It may require a restart of [the server] for all users who are currently affected to no longer be affected, but I can no longer reproduce the issue any more. Re-enabling the option re-creates the problem for me, so I am very confident that the setting in F-Secure is the problem."

Another problem with F-Secure Antivirus is reportedly that versions 8.0 and 9.0 are both incompatible with the Thunderbird e-mail client — a strange thing to be incompatible with, since it's a very popular piece of software!

Still more typewriter lore

A new ribbon really helped... the old Selectric II is as good as new.


More typewriter lore

To see a classic ad for a Royal Electress, click here.


Selectric II and Typit II


The Selectric lives...


Minor annoyances of 2010

Web pages that bob up and down as advertisements vie for our attention while we're trying to click on things.

Advertisements that say "Obama wants you to" do something. Entirely bogus, and they're misleading the public.

People who describe amounts of money by saying "five" or the like, without making it clear whether they mean $5, $500, $5000, or something else. (This seems to be a new fad. Do some of the nouveaux pauvres think that's how rich people talk? Remember "two-fifty"?)

Chain postings on Facebook. "If you really care about this worthy cause, you will copy this message into your status line... 93% of people won't do it." (And it would be 100% if they all understood what a status line is for.)

State budget cuts, which, due to our dependence on past tax revenue, will continue long after the economy recovers. I predict an exodus of state employees to the private sector, and of state teachers to private schools and colleges.

Cold weather.


Program your own digital watch

Texas Instruments is now marketing a digital watch you can program yourself. Truly a geek's delight — but I don't have time to play with one.

In other news, my Selectric typewriter is going to live, and it has cost only $95 to repair. And to think I almost junked it... I was actually on the point of taking it to the dumpster on Thursday. I'll pick it up on Monday and, in due course, type a Notebook entry with it.


Two financial curiosities

No. 1: There has been a startling drop in U.S. consumer credit, i.e., use of credit cards, in-store financing, automobile loans, and everything else not backed by real estate. In October there was a $4 billion drop, and in November the same was expected, but it actually came to $17 billion. If that monthly rate were to continue, the annual rate of fall would be 8.5%, and that's impressive. The cause is partly unemployment, party the banking crisis, and partly, I think, the new culture of thrift.

If I were in the credit-card business, I'd be worried. Everybody else should be happy.

No. 2: Have you heard about the sight-draft scam? It's almost too weird to believe.

By way of background, a sight draft is an order for immediate payment. A check is one kind of sight draft. Other kinds, drawn on things other than checking accounts, are often used in the import-export business and in government transactions.

Well, people are paying their bills — often paying off entire mortgages — with bogus sight drafts drawn on the U.S. Treasury. Some of this is outright crime, and some of it is a weird conspiracy theory that says the Treasury has somehow mortgaged the birth certificates of all citizens (?!) and created secret accounts that people can draw on.

What keeps the scheme going is that if you tender a bad sight draft, your bank is likely to take it — at first — and for a few days you'll think you've gotten away with it. This is enough to convince a lot of people that the scheme works. Then the fake document bounces and they come and take you to jail.

As usual, the mind boggles. Follow the link to learn more about this weirdness. And don't accept any strange check-like documents as payments.


Triumph of deontologism?

Today (Jan. 7) I gave a lecture on philosophical theories of ethics, to kick off Dr. Shelby Funk's computer ethics course. (Dr. Funk had to be out of town for the first day.)

Afterward, I got to thinking... The civil rights struggle in the South can be understood as the triumph of deontologism over utilitarianism.

"Huh?" you're asking. Well, utilitarianism is the theory that we should try to give the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Deontologism is the theory that some things are right or wrong regardless of whether they make anyone happy.

And what if the way to make most people happy is to treat some people really badly? In a purely utilitarian theory, that might be OK. Do whatever does the most "good" overall, even if it also does some bad.

Contrast that with deontologism. One of the deepest deontological thinkers was Immanuel Kant, who got a lot of mileage out of a simple principle, "Act only on that maxim which you can will to be universal law," or in plain English, "Follow rules that would be fair if everyone followed them." (If this reminds you of the Golden Rule, it should.) By that criterion, racial oppression is wrong because you'd object if it were done to you. It's wrong even if it makes life easier for a large number of people.

(See also this.)

Financial wisdom

Hearing the Dave Ramsey Show on the radio while driving home from work, I learn a lot about the follies of humankind.

Recently, several callers were women, and as the father of two young women myself, I have some advice to give:

(1) If you want to be a stay-at-home mom (as Melody did for a long time, and it was good for our children), don't prepare by taking out $150,000 in student loans. When you take out a student loan, you are committing yourself to go to work.

(2) Think about how you might support yourself if you are widowed or divorced. A surprising number of Dave's female callers seem to imagine that they should never have to work for a living, no matter what.

I would also advise everyone, male or female, not to borrow money to become a college teacher. (I didn't; an NSF Graduate Fellowship sent me to graduate school. More to the point, an awful lot of Ph.D. candidates are supported by assistantships, not loans. If you are Ph.D. material, you are also assistantship material.) The growth of colleges that happened in the 1970s and 1980s is over. Borrowing money for graduate school is only justifiable if the degree will make you employable in industry or a profession, not just teaching in college.


Short notes

Classes are about to start, and I'm busy...

My vintage 1975 IBM Selectric II typewriter has just gone in for repair. I was vacillating whether to fix it or junk it, but it's an old friend, and by now, it's also something of a collector's item. This is the machine that put my thoughts on paper from 1975 to 1983, and sporadically thereafter. When it comes back, I'll type a Notebook entry with it.

Retirement, a passing fancy? The notion that people should retire when they're still healthy enough for years of active life is basically a post-1950 idea, and it may be going away again. Generous retirement plans in the second half of the 20th Century were made possible by the fact that older people were greatly outnumbered by productive young adults. That is, retirement is a product of the Baby Boom! Along the way, the idea got out that Social Security is a retirement plan; it was actually intended just to protect the very old from destitution, since 65 was the average life expectancy of workers when it started. I predict that within a decade or so, working as long as you can (into your 80s, often) will again become common, at least among people who did not make careful preparations, or who suffered financial reverses. Although I believe in freedom, I'd like to see some kind of compulsory or near-compulsory retirement saving program, because people who don't save for their future will become a burden on everyone else.


How to get fountain pen ink off your fingers

To remove fountain pen ink from your fingers or other objects, and even to clean clogged pens, try Windex. It works!

Apparently, the active ingredients are isopropyl alcohol and ammonium carbonate.

The French Chef...?

Some of the best acting we've seen lately is Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Unfortunately, the other character, "Julie," Ms. Child's immature admirer, is not very likeable at all.

Still more awe-inspiring is the real Julia Child making "primordial soup" in the Smithsonian (i.e., giving a lecture about the Urey experiment, right there in her kitchen). As usual, the mind boggles.

My other blog

I've started another blog specifically for my Natural Language Processing course. Click here to see it.



More short notes

UPDATE: Do not do any of the workarounds described below. The problem was solved in Quicken 2010 Release 5, which is a free update. The workarounds were unsuccessful and messy.

Quicken problem not solved: After doing the Quicken workarounds that I described yesterday, I still wasn't out of the woods. Every payment ever made to this particular credit card ended up duplicated or triplicated in my checking account register, showing a huge (and fortunately unreal) overdraft.

So I reverted to the Quicken files that I saved before doing the workarounds. If Quicken does not fix the problem (and yes, this is a data integrity problem that they should fix), I will eventually, again, make a new account for the credit card, but this time start it January 1, 2010.

First technological innovation of the new decade: Wal-Mart cash register receipts printed on both sides, and therefore using only half as much paper. First seen January 3, 2010.


Jewish financial secrets?

We've been reading Thou Shall Prosper, by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a Jewish book that has become popular with the Christian money management crowd.

The purpose of the book is to tell the rest of us what, in Jewish culture, contributes to the Jews' penchant for business and financial success.

One thing Rabbi Lapin hammers home, throughout the book, is mutual benefit. When two people make a transaction, it's not a matter of one of them "taking" something from the other; rather, they both end up with what they want, or closer to what they want than when they started. This is basic economics, but often unfamiliar to nonspecialists, especially American workers inoculated with trade-union socialism ("the boss is exploiting us").

He points out, in particular, that standard accounting methods often conceal benefits. Why do people go around buying things and immediately converting new merchandise into secondhand merchandise? Because the things they buy are useful to them. I don't buy new shoes as an investment, I buy them to walk around in. The drop in their dollar value when I first put them on is irrelevant, because when I put them on, I get — for the first time — the value that they were designed to deliver.

But right at the beginning, he reveals what I consider the Jews' biggest financial secret: a lack of what Novak calls aristocratic prejudice.

To put it bluntly, many people (especially outside Jewish culture) mistakenly feel that earning money is somehow shameful and that it would be better not to reveal how they earn their living. This is connected with the idea that "old money" is more prestigious than "trade" — the real gentry lives off their property or their grandfather's hard work rather than earning it themselves. The Jews got their financial acumen partly from being, historically, left out of this.

The Rabbi's advice is to recognize that you earn money by serving other people, meeting their needs, which means that it's just as noble to be a salesman as to be a missionary. (If in fact you do have moral qualms about your profession, address them, and change professions!)

It follows that you should stop separating your profession from your personal and social life. This doesn't mean angling for business in social settings of course, but it does mean being glad to admit what you are and what you do, just as you would if you were a clergyman or a professor.

For those who know English and French, a pun on rabbi and lapin is too obvious to mention, so I won't mention it.

Short notes

Drudgework: The big consulting job that I've been doing all through the holidays has finally reached the "drudgework" stage, and that is a very welcome development. What I mean is that I've worked out the methodology, and the theoretical underpinnings, and now I just have to work through the data. (And find the time to do so.) This is written at 10 a.m. on January 4, a furlough day, so I can give it a lot of effort today.

Freeze: Georgia is having a multi-day freezing spell, which is unusual in our climate. We'll probably go five days with temperatures below freezing for much of the day, and then there's a chance of snow, which will stick. Hmmm...

Pop: All through our fiction and folklore is the notion of objects "disappearing," vanishing suddenly from the real world; it's what magicians pretend to make happen, and what happens on the input side of the Star Trek transporter. Well, has anyone realized that if a substantial solid object were removed instantly (say, within a millisecond), there would be a popping noise like a balloon bursting? Air would rush into the vacant space, creating a shock wave. Food for thought, if you write science fiction or fantasy, which I don't.

New chemical: At Wal-Mart last night, I saw (but did not buy) a new kind of paintbrush cleaner made from ethyl lactate. It reportedly dissolves oil paint (and dried latex paint, and some plastics) but mixes with water and is safe to pour down the drain. Sounds useful.

Credit or debit?

I'm somewhat new to the world of debit cards, and for a couple of years, when people have asked me, "Credit or debit?" I thought they were asking whether I was using a credit card or a debit card.

In fact, it's more complicated. They might be asking which of two ways to process a debit card, "on line" (debit-card-style, with PIN) or "off line" (credit-card-style, with signature but no PIN).

The first way ("debit") is cheaper for the merchant to process. The second way ("credit") costs the merchant more, but is completely compatible with the credit card processing system, with many of the same guarantees, and may not debit the checking account until a day or two have passed.

Which is better? Hard to tell. My bank advises me to choose "credit," either to avoid the risk of giving my PIN to a stranger's machine, or to enable them to collect higher fees.


Quicken tells you there are downloaded transactions
to review when there aren't

[Addendum: What is described below is not a complete fix. Click here for more about it.]

I recognize that the people who make Quicken are performing a Herculean task to make their software work with the online banking services of a zillion financial institutions. Nonetheless, I think their software has a bug.

Recently, several of my accounts, of various kinds, developed "phantom transactions." That is, I was repeatedly told that there were more downloaded transactions to review, when there weren't any visible in the list (and no other evidence that any existed).

Quicken has posted a set of workarounds, and I had to use the most drastic one, which was to create a whole new account and copy the transactions into it. (Simpler measures, including Validate, didn't work.)

Creating a whole new account worked, but...

The first time I downloaded transactions into the new account, they didn't match the existing copies of the same transactions. So I had a choice of "match manually" or "delete downloaded transaction." I opted for the latter, which takes only three mouse clicks instead of even more. But there were 261 of them.

So after about 800 mouse clicks, I have one of the accounts synchronized again.

(It might have been better if I had started with a manual download of just the past couple of days' transactions, from the bank's web site. That would have set the most recent download date to today, without bringing in hundreds of old transactions to review.)

But Quicken could have spared me all this trouble. A simple point of data integrity: If there's nothing in the list of transactions to accept, then there are no transactions needing to be accepted. Right? And if there's a discrepancy, the program should tell me what it is and ask me how to correct it.

Furlough day

Monday, January 4, is a furlough day and I am not permitted to work for the University of Georgia. So although people are beating down the doors to get into CSCI/LING 8570, they'll have to wait one more day.


Does anyone remember...?

As a high-school student intensely interested in photographic technology, I was always excited to visit a well-equipped camera store. In the fall of 1970, while visiting relatives in Atlanta, I was taken to Star Photo No. 1, on Ponce de Leon at Argonne. There I bought some Series V gelatin-in-glass filters which I used with my telescope, very successfully, observing Saturn.

Later that year, I was probably something of a pest to the staff, first returning (by mail) a filter that had delaminated, and then quizzing them about available telephoto lenses. But they put up with me... My next astrophotography book should probably be dedicated to the many people in the photo industry who patiently answered my inquiries even though they didn't make any money.

Around 1980, there was still a camera store at that location, although much less well-equipped, and I stopped in and happened to buy a roll of Kodak SO-115 film, later known as Technical Pan; that was my first experience with one of the basic tools of late-20th-Century astrophotography.

The building seems to have been vacant for some time, and it looks like it's not long for this world. I record its present appearance for posterity. This is a view one doesn't see from Ponce de Leon; I took the picture through the windshield while driving north on Argonne.

[Addendum:] The camera store was diagonally opposite a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop that is still there and apparently thriving. The Coney Island-style sign above the camera store is particularly memorable; the Star Photo trademark was a five-pointed star with a tail like a comet.


Blue moon (in full color)

On December 31 we had a "blue moon," i.e., a second full moon within the same calendar month. This is of no physical significance and is not especially rare, since a lunar month is slightly less than 29 days long. The origin of the phrase "blue moon" is unclear; in the 1800s it apparently meant nothing specific, but my recollection is that in the 1940s, someone suggested applying it to the second full moon of a month, and the name stuck. Wikipedia has other hypotheses to offer.

What you see here is not blue, of course, but very colorful. Doug Downing is here, and during the waning hours of 2009 we attached his Canon XSi to my (1980 vintage) Celestron 5, took some pictures of the moon, and enhanced the color saturation in Photoshop. You can see the colors of different types of moon rocks.

Still more on health care economics

Doug Downing is here for a visit, so the quality of the economics remarks in this Notebook should improve... Here are a couple more gleanings from our conversations about the health insurance bill.

(1) If we got universal health insurance, much of the controversy about domestic partner benefits would be moot. It is bizarre that Melody's health insurance depends on my employment (not even her own). (Are there people who get married in order to get insurance? I wonder.) The only reason insurance is tied to employment (or spouse's employment, or parent's employment) is to get around a loophole in World War II wage controls. It would be much better for individuals to buy insurance directly and keep it for life or for long periods, the way they buy life insurance.

(The other domestic partner benefit is pension survivorship, and as people move toward having their own IRAs instead of relying on their employers, they can make any arrangements they want.)

(2) One reason the price of health care is going up is that the productivity of farmers and factory workers has skyrocketed in the past hundred years, but a doctor can still treat only about the same number of patients per day. (He can treat them better, of course, but he can't use an assembly line or automated machinery to treat thousands per hour.) So, relative to the cost of goods and services and to average people's income, the cost of health care has to go up.

(3) The inflation-adjusted black-eyed pea: It is traditional in Georgia to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, and we did. There's a saying that for every pea that you eat, you'll earn a dollar in the new year. Obviously, I can't eat enough peas to account for the income I actually need. But the situation is not quite as hopeless as it looks, because the tradition must date back to 1933 or earlier, and adjusting for inflation, one 1933 dollar is worth $17 today. So maybe every pea is worth $17 in today's dollars. I still don't promise to eat thousands of them...


Where and when did 2010 start?

As I write this, it's 11 a.m. on December 31 in Georgia but 2010 has already started in the South Pacific. What's going on?

Well, recall that time zones are numbered, hour by hour, east and west of Greenwich (a place in metropolitan London). Georgia is in zone -5 (meaning local noon comes 5 hours later than noon in London), California is -8, and so on. Germany is +1, eastern Europe is +2, and so forth.

As you go westward to -12 and eastward to +12, eventually you'll get to the International Date Line, where -12 and +12 meet, on the side of the earth directly opposite London. There you have two adjacent zones that are 24 hours apart. It's January 1 on the west side when it's the same time of day December 31 on the east side.

So does the new year start in zone +12, twelve hours before it starts in London? Worse than that. New Zealand (in zone +12) has Daylight Saving Time, which kicks it into Zone +13 in the local summer (including January, which is summer there). And the Line Islands, due south of Hawaii, have chosen to be on the "wrong" side of the International Date Line, so instead of zone -10, where they belong, they are in zone +14, for reasons best known to the Line Islanders. So that is where the local date first reached January 1.

People who don't travel much can easily get confused about these things. The most common point of confusion is whether it is "really earlier" (or later) somewhere else than here. No; "now" is "now" everywhere, but the sun is in different places in the sky (rising in London as it sets in New Zealand), so people in different places set their clocks differently.

About 100 years ago, everyone decided not to try to set their clocks to true local time (matching 12:00 noon to the actual time the sun is highest in the daytime sky). Instead, wide zones, an hour apart, were carved out so that clocks could be synchronized by telegraph or radio.

And that leads to occasional puzzles. When I was very young, my father told me the following story. The scene is Columbus, Georgia, which has suburbs on the other side of a time zone boundary. A local yokel walks into the bus station and speaks to the clerk.

"What time does the bus leave for Phenix City?"

"Ten o'clock."

"And what time does it get there?"

"Nine-fifteen. Would you like to buy a ticket?"

"N...n...no, I just want to watch it take off!"

If they were using true local time, of course, Phenix City would be only about a minute off from Columbus, but the bus line would be very hard to operate because every town would have its own standard time. It was the railroads that actually gave us time zones in the first place, so that they could keep fixed schedules over large areas.

Getting back to the International Date Line, I've been asked if there's a way a person, starting near the line and traveling very fast, could make a trip and "come back before he left." The answer is no. Consider a couple of examples.

Suppose you're on the Samoa side of the line (in zone -12), it's noon on December 31, and you cross to the New Zealand side (zone +12). There, it's noon on January 1. Now you cross back quickly. It's still December 31 when you get there. Did you become a day older when you crossed the line? No, you just went to a place where the clocks are set differently.

Now suppose, again, that you're in Samoa at noon on December 31 and you're impatient for the new year to start. So you zoom around the earth very rapidly, moving eastward. You zoom to California, where it's late afternoon, and you watch the sun set very rapidly as you pass across North America (moving into places where the sun has already set). As you pass London it is local midnight and you blow your New Year's whistle. Then, over the Middle East, you watch the sun rise, and over Asia, the sun rises higher in the sky. Just before you get to the International Date Line, it's just past noon on January 1. Have you gained a day?

No, because — clunk — when you get to the International Date Line and cross back into Samoa, the calendar resets to December 31, and if your trip took only five minutes of real time, then it's just five minutes past noon.

The International Date Line doesn't enable you to gain or lose a day — it prevents you from gaining or losing a day, provided you return to where you started.

Incidentally, if you were go to around the earth very fast westward, the opposite of the way it rotates, you would see sunset and sunrise happen backward. For example, the sun would come up in the west (a sunset in reverse) as you passed from places where the sun had already set to places where it hadn't. Like many other people, my colleague Bernard Comrie has actually seen something like this while flying in a jetliner near the North Pole, where the time zones are narrow wedges.

One more bit of Line Islands trivia: In their Micronesian language, "ti" is the spelling for the sound /s/. So "Kiritimati" is Christmas Island, and "Kiribati" is pronounced "Kiribas" (and represents the English name "Gilberts"). Now you know.

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