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Comment Who will write the novel? (Score 1) 157

A modern-day Dickens could do something with it.

"Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless."--Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Comment Good for Bill. And: read "The Big Necessity." (Score 5, Interesting) 338

This is great and I applaud and respect him for doing this. After you get done cracking jokes, go read The Big Necessity by Rose George. I never fully understood just how privileged we are.

"2.6 billion people don't have sanitation. I don't mean that they have no toilet in their house and must use a public one with queues and fees. Or that they have an outhouse, or a rickety shack that empties into a filthy drain or pigsty. All that counts as sanitation, though not a safe variety. The people who have those are the fortunate ones. Four in ten people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket, or box. Instead, they defecate by train tracks and in forests. They do it in plastic bags and fling them through the air in narrow slum alleyways.... Four in ten people live in situations where they are surrounded by human excrement because it is in the bushes outside the village or in the city yards, left by children outside the backdoor...

In 2007, readers of the British Medical Journal were asked to vote for the biggest medical milestone of the last two hundred years. Their choice was wide: antibiotics, penicillin, anesthesia, The Pill. They chose sanitation."

Comment "...and I enjoyed every minute of it." (Score 4, Insightful) 532

I don't know who said it--when I heard it it was attributed to Mark Twain but that doesn't seem to be right. At any rate, someone asked a nonbeliever whether he wasn't terrified by the thought of nonexistence after death. He replied, "Not at all. I experienced nonexistence for eons before I was born, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

I wish them luck with their $5 million, but I don't think they'll be any wiser than Omar Khayyam:

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d-
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing,
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

Comment It's an intrinsic problem, not a novelty/fad issue (Score 3, Interesting) 261

There simply are intrinsic problems with stereoscopic 3D. The first is that the point of the technology is to increase realism. When you are experiencing that increase realism, 3D enhances the experience.

The problem is that because of the geometry of stereoscopy, 3D in a theatre only increases realism if you are sitting in a rather small sweet spot in the middle of the house; in a home, only if you're sitting on one properly placed piece of furniture. Sit farther back, and depth is exaggerated. Sit farther forward, and it's flattened. Sit to the size, and everything is skewed--cubes become rhomboids. Instead of being more realistic than flat cinema, it becomes less realistic.

This Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari effect is novel and stimulating, but it is not realistic or story-enhancing. It's rather like the early days of color TV. Colored snow, and actors changing from purplish to greenish as they walk across the screen, have a gee-whiz appeal, but in the long haul it has to be accurate or it doesn't satisfy, and it can't be accurate if they want to fill a theatre.

A second problem is that 3D doesn't really work unless the picture is so big that you are never looking close to the screen edges, where you get insoluble problems with binocular disparity if any object in the screen image is closer than the physical screen.

The second is that you only get an increase in realism if the director and cinematographer throw out a century of screen grammar, and limit themselves to using lens of one focal length. And, the more realistic the basic process, the more jarring something as ordinary as a cut is. We've learned to take cuts from a long shot to a closeup in stride, but it's harder if the image is so realistic that every cut induces a sense of physical movement. The re-thinking of how to tell a story on the screen might be possible. After all, the introduction of sound posed similar problems in the early days. But adding sound meant adding a whole new sensory modality. 3D is really, at heart, just a better picture... just like Cinerama or 48 fps Showscan, neither of which had staying power despite being a breakthrough in realism.

Comment Herman Wouk, "A Hole in Texas" (Score 1) 652

Herman Wouk (of all people--he's better-known for "The Caine Mutiny" and "The Winds of War"--) wrote a reasonably amusing novel about the project, published in 2005, entitled "A Hole In Texas." I'm afraid I don't remember the plot twists--it's not a layman's crib sheet on either the physics or the history of the supercollider. If you enjoyed the atomic bomb background material in "War and Remembrance," it's that sort of thing... and as Abraham Lincoln probably didn't say, "People who like this sort of thing will find it just the sort of thing they like."

Comment A drunk could probably drive 125 mi "successfully" (Score 3, Informative) 148

Most of the time highway traffic is safe and predictable. Driving 125 miles under favorable conditions (perfect weather and visibility if the news photo is any guide) without incident? Drunks do that and often get away with it; so do texting teenagers and fatigued truck drivers.

If someone demonstrated that he could drive 125 while smoking marijuana without having an accident, would we conclude that driving while high is safe and should be allowed?

The accident rate on highways is so low that 125 miles tells you nothing at all. The average accident rate in the United States is 8 fatalities per billion passenger miles. There is no way in the world a single 125 mile test involving four vehicles can tell you whether the accident rate for these car-trains is the same, ten times as high, or ten times as low. This is just a stunt, and proves nothing except that someone at Volvo had guts, and that someone in authority exercised bad judgement and allowed it.

Comment Everything changed in less than a year? (Score 1) 65

"BYOD is the new norm.... 95% of organizations surveyed allow employee-owned devices in some way, shape or form in the office... These stats underscore a major shift in the way people are working, in the office, at home and on-the-go, a shift that will continue to gain momentum."

Cisco is now able to identify and predict "a shift that will continue to gain momentum," but a year ago, nobody could foresee it?

In 1980, nobody ever brought an Apple to work to run Visicalc?

I have no idea what the real story is. Maybe an upper-management personality clash. Maybe the device just turned out to be really bad. But I don't think the statistics and "new norm" story can be the real story.

Comment Crapware that overrides decent features (Score 2) 474

Microsoft exerts control on their OEMs and dictates many aspect of the user experience, particularly allowing them to put various Windows logo stickers on their goods ("Vista-Ready" being a case in point). If Microsoft believes users will have a better experience without the crapware--$99 better--if they actually cared about their users, they would make crapware-free systems a requirement for using the Windows logo.

Or, at least, require OEMs to submit crapware to Microsoft for approval to make sure it is a genuine option that doesn't degrade the user experience simply by its presence.

Microsoft should definitely prohibit crapware that overrides decent Windows features that work fairly well. The biggest problem I have helping friends with their Windows systems is that when they want to know how to do something simple like burn a CD, I never know what to tell them--because their system has invariably had third-party crapware installed that takes over the Windows way of doing it, and does it in some entirely different way.

Comment Then why couldn't I do it? (Score 1) 110

I don't want to get into the rights and lefts of it all, one of my personal frustrations with Apple is that while I've given my granddaughter "songs" any number of times ("gift this song,") when I thought she'd enjoy a funny little application called "The Moron Test," the Apple Store wouldn't let me. Took me days of slow email-like exchanges with Apple for them to finally get back to me and say "It can't be done."

They control the platform, they set the rules, you can do it with a song, why not an app? If they don't want to do it themselves, why are they off patenting it so that nobody else can? Seems pretty dog-in-the-manger...

Comment The customer is always right. (Score 1) 503

Honesty is the best policy.

The customer service goal for world-class organizations is to not only satisfy customers, but to delight them.

That isn't rocket science, that's just Retail 101 and it has been for the last century.

There's a perfectly ordinary chain drugstore in my town, but I'm their customer for life, because they just do everything right. It's nothing that grabs you in particular. But the advertised specials are always there. They put more people on the cash registers the lines build, nobody greets you obtrusively when you walk in the store but when you want help you get it. All the silly little retail things you take for granted. Nothing special, nothing they shouldn't be doing, it's just that they do it all the time, every time.

And they always do the right thing on returns. Whether the package is opened or not. Whether you have the receipt or not. Just because you say you want to return it.

Returns matter. Customers worry about buying the right thing or getting a lemon, knowing you can return something makes you more likely to purchase. Returns are unpleasant; you always fear rejection. Returns are especially important with gifts. The best way you can convince someone to buy that gift is to convince them that it's easy for the recipient to return it.

Best Buy? I don't think they're such an awful company really, but the time I tried to return a cheap DVD player that just plain didn't work and they hit me with a restocking fee, I got a cold prickly. I wasn't going to fight them about ten bucks or whatever it was, but it was just plain wrong, they shouldn't a done it, and I remember it. Do I still shop at Best Buy? Sure. But do I love the store? No.

Accepting returns graciously, quickly, and efficiently is one of the best ways a store can build loyalty. Best Buy is screwing themselves by getting a reputation for being difficult on returns. It's the kind of thing that spreads by word-of-mouth. "Don't buy stuff there, it's a hassle if you need to return it."

Comment A sad goodbye to an old friend (Score 1) 3

As an occasional Wikipedia contributor, I guess I helped kill the Britannica, and I won't say I'm sorry, but it is sad, nevertheless. In the 1970s I spent a year at a marine laboratory in the Caribbean that had a small library, including a 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I fell in love with that wonderful work--eventually picked up a "Handy Volume" edition for $50 at a used book store and I love browsing it for pleasure.

The "up-to-date" Britannica of my high school years was OK--quite a lot of it unchanged from 1911, such as the articles on Beethoven!--but the new material was not as wonderful. The Britannica 3 revamp was really darn good, despite Mortimer Adler's pompous pretentious Propaedia, and the Micropaedia was a great innovation that really worked quite well.

Comment Remember the "self-healing software" hype? (Score 1) 164

Circa the mid-nineties... the media was gushing over the latest trend, how great it was going to be, and how it was going to solve our update problems. One example would be this piece by Brian Livingston. In the wondrous world of the future, "the user does little or no work, other than clicking a menu button to start the upgrade process. Sometimes not even that is necessary. The software dials up[sic] the vendor's BBS or the World Wide Web site automatically installs any components that are newer than the than those on the currently installed version.... This level of automation, of course, assumes that the user's PC is equipped with a working modem." But once we get to that point, nirvana is at hand. No more software bugs, all our software constantly and updated to the latest version, effortlessly.

These days, it seems as if I a significant amount of time unproductively waiting while my computer downloads and installs some massive update--most recently over one gigabyte for a recent Mac OS X point update. Sometimes, even after the download, the installation process itself can take ten minutes, during which time everything else the machine is doing typically slows to a crawl. Or involves the machine rebooting itself once or twice. Or involves the update program politely requesting that I shut down every application I'm running.

Not to mention the time wasted checking the forums to find out whether the current update is likely to break my computer, and figuring out how to block my system from automatically installing it until they release the improved patch.

But I'm not worried, I'm sure a car manufacturer would never release buggy update. They have far better SQA departments than all the rest of the software industry... don't they?

Comment It's an Ames window! (Score 1) 2

It looks exactly like an Ames trapezoidal window--designed, or discovered, or invented by Adelbert Ames in the early 1950s. It is a stunning illusion; you can see a version of it on YouTube but it is completely convincing even when seen with two eyes in real life. The window is a perceptual illusion. It is a flat panel, with painted tromp l'oeil mullions. It actually turns continuously and steadily in a circle but appears to be oscillating back and forth. The illusion is so compelling that the brain is more willing to believe that familiar objects like pipes or pencils are bending, than to believe that the window is doing what it is really doing--turning continuously rather than oscillating.

I do hope that Windows 8 will include an animated version of this window doing its twisted, skew, perversely deceptive thing. But then I've always wanted an animated version of OS/2's logo of two gears meshed with a single worm gear all turning, and I never got that wish either.

Comment Manipulation of the Oscars? I am shocked, shocked. (Score 1) 1

I haven't been this upset since I heard that they weren't checking IDs in the voting for Miss Rheingold. Commercial promotion is what a free society is all about. Unless the integrity of national consumer elections is assured, how can we assure efficient allocation of resources to the most-needed colors of M&Ms?

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