Every time I sit down and read SciAm’s “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense”, I think the same thing — this should be required reading for anyone embarking on a career in science. Not only is it a terrific resource to have on hand, but it’s a reminder that the arguments creationism claims to refute are rarely the arguments being made by evolutionary biologists, but rather are Disney-like simplifications of incredibly complex observations.
I’m pretty impressed with Slate’s interactive primer on the use of torture as part of prisoner interrogation; it’s easy to use and has quite a bit of detail about the various practices of the U.S. government (and the official and unofficial government policies that support them) in the post-9/11 era. (Note that I was impressed even before I knew that Dahlia Lithwick had a hand in building the primer!)
I’m glad that Doug Hughes pointed out what might be the worst web application of all time; it helps me know what to strive not to produce as I work on my research web app. In all honesty, though, the website he analyzes — the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s Clerk Information System — is so bad that you’d actually have to work hard to produce something that terrible. To extend a cliche, if you put an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards and eventually produced a Shakespeare work, the rest of the time, they’d be producing web apps like this.
From a posting on MetaFilter comes this awesome collection of Civil War photographs, including shots of Lincoln visiting the battlefield in Antietam (and standing alongside Allen Pinkerton, founder of the first Secret Service), slave laborers collecting bones from exposed graves, an embalmer working on a fallen soldier, and sailors taking a break on the deck of the ironclad USS Monitor. I could spend hours browsing through these; it’s cool to think how difficult photography was in the 1860s, and as a result, how notable each of these images is today.
(The same MetaFilter thread also dug up a Library of Congress database of selected Civil War photos, further satisfying the appetite.)
The Self-Referential Aptitude Test was a fun way to waste a half hour of my time this morning! It’s been a long time since I did anything like this, but it brought back how much I enjoyed logic puzzles and recursive games back in my math geek days. (Who am I kidding, though — those days are still here!)
One piece of advice, though: don’t make the mistake of confusing answer markers (e.g., A, B, C, etc.) with the option that that marker marks. For example, there are a lot of places in the puzzle that answer marker A denotes the answer “B”, and you should try as hard as you can to keep the two ways of denoting an answer separate. Not doing so is the quickest way to totally confuse yourself!
Well, color me glad that Shannon and I decided to forsake a Caribbean honeymoon for one in the south of Spain!
Reason number 1,423 that our country is completely doomed: at this moment, 24 of the 30 photos on Yahoo’s most popular news photo page are of a billionaire skank socialite whose only claim to apparent fame is taping a few dozen instances of either servicing or being serviced by Rick Solomon. Another of the thirty pictures is of the paparazzi taking her picture, and yet another is of her only slightly less-skanky sister. That’s a full 87% of the most popular photos devoted to complete mind-numbing nothingness. (There’s a 750 Kb PDF of the photo page as it currently looks here, and a 1.5 Mb PNG here.)
Oh, awesome: the folks at Flickr have moved from a photo interface based on Flash to one based on good ol’ Ajax, and done so pretty damn quickly! I’m happiest just because the old interface didn’t always sit well with my browsing style (loading tabs in the background and then going to check them out in batches); frequently, I’d get to a Flickr page and find that I had to reload it in order to get the Flash photo-viewing box to fill in. But beyond that, the new interface seems quicker and more intuitive to me (like, for example, you can now include links in your photo notes!).
Am I the only one that thinks that Bush is really transmitting his super-secret spy findings back to the U.S. in this photo?
Ever since our Series2 TiVo downloaded the operating system version that allows TiVoToGo transfer of recordings, Shannon and I have suffered through possibly the worst bug I’ve experienced in my PVR lifetime — every time we changed the channel, TiVo would put us through between five and ten seconds of jumpy, pixellated video and stuttering audio. It made it so that channel browsing was completely out of the question, and every single recording would start with the tail end of the buggy behavior (since they all started with the channel being changed to the one with the program to be recorded). The various online discussion boards have been going on and on about the bug, and most users were reporting back that when they called TiVo to report the problem, they were getting either a deaf ear or an outright denial. Recently, we told some of our friends that the whole thing was bad enough to make us not want to use the TiVo anymore, and look into getting a PVR from our cable company.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the affected box downloaded a service update last night, and the bug is totally gone! Having abandoned the discussion boards, it turns out that there was a thread two weeks ago mentioning that the upgrade was in the pipeline. I’m pretty happy about it, since it returns our living room TiVo to the Land Where It Can Be Used Without Wanting To Throw It Out The Window, and because it looks like TiVo was actually listening after all.
Shannon and I are pretty big fans of Southwest Airlines, given that they usually let us make our monthly wedding-planning visits to south Jersey for under $60 round-trip. On Thursday morning, I logged into the Southwest website to print our boarding passes, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to select both of our reservations to print until I closed Safari and logged back in using Firefox. It turns out that Southwest’s website pushes different pages to Safari users than it does to Firefox users, and the difference makes no sense to me at all.
On the left is the reservation selection page in Firefox; on the right is the same page in Safari:
See the difference? In Firefox, not only does the site provide checkboxes for selection (a type of form input that allows the user to make multiple selections at the same time), it provides a link that quickly selects all the checkboxes at the same time. On the other hand, in Safari, the site provides radio buttons for selection (a type of form input that only allows the user to make one selection at a time), and omits the select-all link. Looking at the source code for the pages, the server truly does send different form elements, and I’m at a loss to explain why they do so. The one thing I can say is that it makes it that much more difficult for someone with Safari to use the site, which is just plain annoying.
I’ve gotta say that Tim Taylor’s implementation of drag-and-drop lists using dynamic HTML is the cleanest and nicest I’ve seen yet. For an app I’m writing, I’ve been using a method loosely based on Simon Cozens’s implementation, but have been frustrated by a few bugs that I can’t find a way to fix. Perhaps it’s time to delve into Tim’s work a little bit, and see if it’s worth making the switch!
From the logs of my new uninterruptible power supply monitoring application:
Tue May 03 06:46:02 EDT 2005 Power failure.
Tue May 03 06:46:05 EDT 2005 Power is back. UPS running on mains.
Ahhh, that’s nice to see — last week, this would have brought part of my home setup to a screeching halt.
(From the very beginning, I’ll acknowledge that this is one of my geekier posts.) At the very top of the list of coolest ‘net-related things I’ve seen this month is the EarthLink R&D project offering a full-fledged IPv6-supported network to anyone who wants to play in their sandbox. The fact that an EarthLink lab has worked on this, and released this, makes me happy that there are still people using easily-accessible tools to push at the edges of the internet.
For those who are technically-inclined, you probably already know what this means; for those who aren’t, let me offer a short explanation. Right now, every computer that can be accessed on the public internet has a unique address, and there are around 4.3 billion “available” addresses. The reason for the quotation marks, though, is that this is a theoretical maximum, and the reality is that about half of these addresses aren’t available for use, which means that there’s an ever-present worry that we will run out of addresses to use on the internet. One solution to this problem is a new method of addressing internet-enabled devices, a method called IPv6, and with it comes the ability to support 340 undecillion addresses (or 3.4 x 1038 addresses, or 340 billion billion billion billion, addresses — which is enough for 670 quadrillion addresses per cubic millimeter of the Earth’s surface). Since we have somewhere around a decade before the need to move to IPv6 becomes urgent, though, it’s not yet in widespread use on the internet.
What EarthLink’s R&D project allows you to do today is buy a Linksys wireless router, download a custom firmware for the router, sign up for an account, and set up your own IPv6 network lickety-split. And the cool thing is that the wireless router will continue to protect the network from access from the outside on the old-style network (the one addressed using the old scheme), but will let you configure full access via the new addressing scheme — which means that you can set up public servers! That’s just cool.
I don’t have a router on which to play with this quite yet, so I’ll be interested to hear other peoples’ experiences. Perhaps in the next week or two, I’ll justify playing a bit myself as well…