Archive for the ‘Information’ Category

Getting Around New York City from the Last Hope

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

I’ll be attending the Last Hope conference this weekend at the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan this weekend. Here are my tips for out-of-towners trying to get around. The conference web site has ample instructions on getting to the conference, so this is an attempt to give fellow attendees some tips on getting around once they get to the convention.

Prepare to walk. New York City is a city of walkers and meant for walking. As walking is a primary mode of transportation, people get as fed up with inconsiderate walkers as drivers do with lousy drivers. Try not to get in people’s way or block up pedestrian traffic. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions, just don’t assume everyone is giving the right answer.

To get an idea of how far you need to walk, keep these rules of thumb in mind — each city block is about 1/20th of a mile North-to-South and 1/7th mile East-to-West. The “Streets” (e.g. 42 St.) go North to South and increase in number as you go North. The “Avenues” (e.g. 7 Ave.) go East to West and increase as you head West.

An important note on address numbers. Most address numbers on east-west are followed by an E (meaning East) or W (meaning West) as in 389 E 42 St. . All these address numbers start at the center of the island and increase as you go outwards, so if you are looking for 596 W 36 St., and you are heading East and you see the numbers going up, and the street signs say “E 36 St.”, you’re headed in the wrong direction. Avenue address numbers behave normally.

Like any good cartesian system, navigating Manhattan is best with two coordinates, so if you know the street something is on, ask for the nearest “cross street”. This should get you to the closest street corner to your destination. If your address is on a “street”, you want the nearest “avenue”, and vice versa.

New York is a terrible city to drive for yourself in, but a great city for getting driven around. Taxi cabs are plentiful and fairly inexpensive. If you share a cab with friends, then the divided fare is often less than the collective cost of the subway. I have found New York cab drivers to be honest and reliable. Sometimes they drive fast, so if it bothers you, tell ‘em to slow down. One of the most annoying behaviours I witness are people trying to befriend their cab driver. Keep the relationship professional and polite. They’re trying to make a buck, but they will be helpful if asked and they are able to help. Don’t forget to tip. Taxi cabs and their fares are strictly regulated. You should never be intimidated into paying more than the price showing on the automatic fare box. I’ll remind a driver to turn on the counter if he doesn’t do so at the start of a trip.

Keep in mind that it may be very hard to find a cab right at the Hotel Pennsylvania, as you are right across from Penn Station. Taxi cab stations are usually crowded and present a long wait. Your best bet is to walk a few blocks away from the busiest intersection and then to hail a cab. Just stick out your arm and wave to cabs that your see. All yellow cabs have dome lights on their roof to signal their availability. If the light is on, and it doesn’t say “off-duty”, then it’s available for a ride. When a cab stops, get in and then tell them where you’re going. They’re required to take you anywhere within city limits and can’t ask for the money up front.

I would advise most newcomers to avoid the subway system, especially during the late nights and weekends. Track maintenance and irregular schedules make the subways unreliable after midnight and during the weekends. North-South trips may be worthwhile if you’re not transferring, but as subway personnel are about as helpful as guards at Guantanamo Bay, you’re best going only if you’re with a native New Yorker. Anyway, if you take a cab, you’ll actually see the city.

As to city buses, I don’t use ‘em and they have a schedule and route system all their own, so ask someone to explain it to you if you get the inkling, but they’re mostly a slow waste of time except for some trips.

You’ll probably be sticking close to the Hotel Pennsylvania for the weekend, but if you get the urge to locomote, hopefully these tips will come in handy. New York City is a great city to explore, and some fresh air and a change of scenery will help clear the head.

The Case of the Missing Violet Blue

Monday, July 7th, 2008

This post was originally posted as a comment on BoingBoing, in relation to that site’s deleting of stories related to the sex columnist Violet Blue. I am posting them here, because, as the Violet Blue episode illustrates, BoingBoing can’t be trusted to maintain an impartial record.

Background on this, mostly via Google, can be found here, here, here, and here, among other places.

I really do hope this issue is addressed because, as the situation now appears to this outsider observer, it reflects horribly on Miss Jardin, and by extension to the other BoingBoingers. It would be a shame if BoingBoing’s integrity were to be seriously damaged by this scandal. BoingBoing is a strong voice for openness and transparency in our electronic society. It would be a shame if the greater cause of freedom in our modern world were damaged by these disreputable actions.

Let us consider the facts -

BoingBoing has been disingenuous in it’s own official pronouncements. When the official Boing Boing moderator, Miss Hayden, posted the official BoingBoing post on the matter, she dismissed the severity of the deletions by claiming media reports of over a hundred posting deleted were too high. It has been documented that at least seventy postings related to Violet Blue were deleted. Not quite a hundred, but a massive enough purging of the public record.

Insinuations by Miss Hayden and Miss Jardin that Miss Blue is somehow responsible for the deletions through bad behaviour are vile, especially as they fail to disclose or deny Miss Blue’s assertion that Miss Jardin and her were “casual” lovers for a brief time. Miss Blue claims ignorance of any misbehaiour, and Jardin and Hayden have darkly hinted that a failure to disclose is to protect the parties from embarassment.

What is most likely is that Miss Jardin deleted the posts in the aftermath of her intimate relationship with Miss Blue. One can well imagine that the break of intimacy might have been more jarring to Miss Jardin than to the libertine Miss Blue. Perhaps some embarrassment over the nature of their relationship troubled Miss Jardin. She suggests as much to the LA Times in comparing her own actions to those of her own father in destroying some of his own erotically-themed work.

It is hard to believe that some public action of Miss Blue prompted the deletions, since then Jardin would need no coyness in explaining herself. It is also unlikely that Miss Blue was banished for acting as a groupie, as has been suggested by many partisans of Miss Jardin - Miss Blue is a successful blogger and columnist in her own right, and not dependent on BoingBoing for attention, nor are there any other reports of Miss Blue behaving badly to get publicity. She writes for Forbes magazine, for goodness’ sake!

So the likelihood is that Miss Jardin’s actions are from personal animus towards Miss Blue, probably prompted by the breakup of their love affair. There is no evidence of any other behaviour by Miss Blue that would have bothered Miss Jardin enough to withdraw her own work from the public sphere.

Other reasons given by BoingBoing, such as the “expense” of keeping these posts public are also fatuous. That this reason is officially cited by BoingBoing brings into question, again, their own truthfulness about this episode.

There is also considerable contradiction in the account of how the deletions were decided upon. At first, the action is depicted as one decided upon by mutual consensus, while later it has been asserted that the BoingBoing bloggers work independently and usually without consultation, and that the deletions were unilaterally done by Miss Jardin.

So the appearance is of Miss Jardin destroying her own work in petulant repudiation of a spurning lover, a depiction even more pathetic in that the spurning lover is oblivious to the original offense. One can well see why Miss Jardin has not been more forthcoming. Her actions were reckless and immature, and perhaps priggish. In the absence of any credible evidence otherwise, one must come to the sad conclusion that the evasiveness of Miss Jardin and BoingBoing is not in deference to Miss Blue’s easily embarrassed sensibilities, but rather out of embarrassment for their own bad behaviour.

We hope that Miss Jardin will put this matter to rest by a full and honest accounting. The openness of the discussion that this comment is a part of gives one hope, but just in case, I’m posting them on my own blog. As this recent episode makes clear, BoingBoing doesn’t have the best track record recently as an open and transparent public forum.

I am even sympathetic to Miss Jardin in her dilemma. No-one likes their intimately private life made public, particularly in such a unflattering way. I hope that she will consider the example of Lady Godiva. Sometimes riding naked through the town’s square can be the best thing for one’s reputation, if the cause is noble.

-Addenda in response to BoingBoinger’s comments, the numbers and names refer to the post numbers and the monikers of the posters.

@mdhatter,1546 - I made factually-based speculations, not insinuations.

What happens with BoingBoing is my business. It is a publication of far reach and its integrity is a matter of public interest. When its integrity is brought into question, the actions that bring that integrity into question is everyone’s business, no matter how personally embarrassing the underlying reasons for those actions may be.

@1545 Archeaopteryx

A putative private lover’s quarrel is not my business, but as I explained to mdhatter, an important public forum’s integrity is my business. I merely cited facts to speculate on the likely cause of the resulting scandal. If BoingBoing is going to delete its archives on the basis of personal romantic involvement, that is a matter of public interest.

Miss Blue has claimed there was a sexual liaison and Miss Jardin has not denied it. If it were untrue there would be no reason for her not to deny it.

And to use some other slang, mdhatter, I just find it skeevy that Miss Jardin might be using a subject’s sexual acquiescence and acquaintance as a criteria for their inclusion in BoingBoing.

Finally, Arch, if you are going to try to use my own words against me, use them properly  My language is neither rude nor the motive capricious, as suggested by the word petulant.  My speculations are rather unpleasant, but I have tried to express myself without vulgarity or personal rancor.

Why I Hate the Wordpress Editor

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

I mean, copulating Infernos, why is it that my self-hosted Wordpress blog can’t easily post an embedded Youtube video? The version of Tiny MCE that comes with Wordpress loves to mangle my formatting of code, if you save directly from the code part of the editor, you are fine. If you ever slip into the visual portion of the editor again, even to later edit a posted piece, it mangles the tags and rearranges them and the formatting and reeks havoc with the entire post, breaking enough stuff so that the entire site’s layout gets schtupped. Even turning off the visual editor does not solve the problem

And I’m using a nice default installation of Wordpress with few plugins activated, using the default Kubrick frame, with few alterations, none of them at a logic level.

It’s not just embedding video that is a bear. Even embedded images can cause aggravation, never quite aligning right.

For me, the greatest aggravation is that the “code” section of the editor is not really the final code. Coding like tags for <p> and <br /> get magically transmogrified or created on a level inaccessible and invisible to the user. When I want to see the code, I want to see it complete an unexpurgated. I don’t want the editor protecting me from my deprecated tags and non-strict XHTML. I’m an adult. It’s my blog. I can handle it.
So why don’t I hack it myself, or use a plug-in? I have found Wordpress plugins to be generally of beta quality, with lots of niggling problems and an incompleted feel to them. I am not a hacker. I don’t know the code well enough, and to learn it and then implement a solution takes more time than kludging together a makeshift solution, and the small aggravation of slight imperfection in formatting annoy me less than the trouble of fixing them would.

The Wordpress user forums are fine, but I have found, especially with the constant updating of the code, that answers are often out of date, and even then they are rarely ideal solutions. Getting one’s own questions answered is hit and miss.

A content management system (CMS), meant to satisfy a wide and diverse user base, is a difficult beast to wrangle. Wordpress is the best I have come across, for my purposes. But it still annoys me.

Giraffe Fighting

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, here is a video of two giraffes fighting. It’s a bit like the last rounds of a heavyweight fight, only the giraffes use their heads as fists, swinging them at each other’s bodies, while they stay close, leaning up against one another.


Eating the Competition’s Lunch

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Where is the next great computer computer company?  Where once was Lotus came Microsoft, where once was AOL came Yahoo, where Yahoo was came Google.

Joel Sposky just posted a long essay on software obsolescence and transitions.  IBM’s balky introduction of a Lotus-branded version of OpenOffice called Symphonys is his starting point.  He tracks the demise of the venerable spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 and the subsequent rise of Microsoft’s Excel. While Lotus concentrated on coding efficiency to make their programs work well for the current generation of computers, Microsoft concentrated on adding features and just waited the six months for the computer hardware capabilities to catch up.  Joel sees a parallel in today’s browser-based market for AJAX applications, where network bandwidth and processing power still matter a lot.  Sposky sees the demise of Google’s Mail as imminent.  A smaller, more innovative company will build a software development kit (SDK) that supplants Google’s internally developed code in efficiency, and most importantly, portability and interoperability with other web-based applications.

I find Sposky’s analysis, while knowledgeable and erudite, to be misguided.  Firstly, AJAX applications like Google Mail might be very high profile, but unlike Lotus’s 1-2-3, they contribute little to Google’s bottom line.  Google serves ads , and that’s how they make their money, and they have always been open with their application programming interfaces (APIs) in this regard.  An API isn’t an SDK, but WTFDYC (what the fudge do you care), they can serve the same purpose for developers.  An API is really more important than an SDK anyway, as computing is more service-based, rather than product-based as in Lotus 1-2-3’s heyday.

Google’s true strength is not in it’s little AJAX doodads like Google Mail. It’s search algorithms are improvable with clever work by a competent team Mumbai programmers.  It’s true strength lies in it’s massive server farms, that allow it to serve the planet’s search needs, and it’s ability to store an easily accessible, frequently updated indexed database of the Internet’s content.

So until someone manages to set-up server farms to rival Google’s, with their massive parallel operations, I don’t think Google has much to worry about.   It would take billions to catch up to Google’s server farm supremacy,  which might be already rivalled by Yahoo or Amazon.  These are Google’s true competitors.  Yahoo has been trying to gain back the prominence that Google poached from it, becoming a sort of universal AOL, while Amazon has dipped its toes into search and web applications.  It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s entry into the service based world has been pretty flat.  They have the advantage of their installed base of server software to build on, but the various Unix flavors are superior to them, in numbers and quality.  Microsoft is a desktop software company.  They are also still the best on the desktop.  (Sorry folks, Apple is a boutique hardware company.)

If you really want to talk about obsolesence, talk about the aforementioned AOL.  The stupid company bought into its own public relations baloney and thought they were more than a bunch of convenient phone numbers with modems at the end.  But they didn’t own the phone lines that kept the whole thing together.  Once  the phone and cable companies, got their act together they ate AOL’s lunch.  The service part of what AOL provided was provided for free, and with better quality, by Yahoo.  Then Yahoo, bought their own hype and thought that they were the destination rather than a waypoint and so Google, doing a better job of indexing, ate Yahoo’s  lunch.  The Internet is all about connectiong little people like me together.  When company’s think they are more important than the little people they connect, then they fail, as the little people go to the new companies that let them be themselves.

Cue the munchkins.

Online IQ Test — How Smart Are You?

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Here’s an online IQ test that uses pattern recognition:

I’m above the curve but not as smart as I thought I was. I certainly did not do well enough to post my score online : (

The test is timed at forty minutes for 39 questions, and the questions do get progressively harder. You can go back and change your answers. It took me the full forty minutes to complete the test, and I rushed a bit at the end. My brain was tired afterwards.

I wonder if I would improve with practice? I expect training specific to this type of test would also be helpful. I suspect experience working matrices and linear algebra would improve one’s results. But for all my speculation, it seems a pretty good test.

I did take the test by just answering randomly a few times.  This gave an average score of about 80 (100 being average).  This seems to invalidate some of the test’s usefulness, at least on the lower level.  As a corollary, if you are advising an imbecile on how to score well, suggest that he just guess!

With Leather — Funny Sports Blog

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

The sports blog With Leather is funny. I mean that it gives me hearty, stupid yuck-yucks, which are sorely appreciated in this complex and dangerous world.

Where else will you find links to two minutes and forty-seven seconds of bicycle mishaps and dead-on appreciations for the essence of professional baseball?

I would even recommend this to my non-sports following friends, especially the men, as it will de-wussify you just a little bit.

“What’s Your Sign?”: Mrs. Evanchik Takes on Street Signs

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

The effervescently-talented Mrs. Monica Evanchik has taken on the enigmatically esoteric subject of street-sign lettering in her latest slide show for the New York Times.  Much work was done by her to present this specialized subject in a manner both comprehensive and comprehensible for the layman.

Shark Attack Statistics

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

The University of Florida has a good web page summarizing shark attacks throughout the United States and the rest of the world. The numbers go back over four hundred years, though only more recent statistics should be considered complete. Statistics are parsed by swimmer activity, type of shark, country or state. All I know is that Maine beaches are looking awful safe this summer.

More Multimedia Magic from the Multitasking Mrs. Monica Evanchik

Monday, July 16th, 2007

The lovely Mrs. Monica Evanchik has been very busy lately: tasting delicious Montsant wines, telling the story of baseball bats and borer beetles, and exposing the riches of American moguls throughout history.