Reviews and links for June 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

5/5

A new must have parenting book. The giant pangolins of Madagascar are inspired, move over Eric Carle. The only problem with the book is that as soon as Kate can read I'm going to have to permanently worry about where this is hidden...

 

Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie, #4) by Kate Atkinson

4/5

Better than When Will There Be Good News although no less depressing. Jackson Brodie (curiously now on Twitter as @JacksonBrodie) is back at the center of the action, investigating the origins of a woman in New Zealand who was adopted under mysterious circumstances. Needless to say it wasn't a harmless mix up. Typically discursive and character rich. Humorous with a black, black heart.

 

Links

- Robot Armpit Prototype from jwz (At last!).

- Scottish domain name bid launched from BBC News - Home (.scot is silly though, should nab .off which could power the economy post independence...).

- Parents 'influence teen drinking' from BBC News - Home (Funny how that works both ways ;)).

- Heat and light from BBC News - Home (Will a drop in solar activity counter global warming? Apparently not enough).

- High court spurns atheist's 'under God' challenge from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Pretty feeble arguments for why the phrase isn't discriminatory...).

- Sarah Palin on Paul Revere from Boing Boing (Got to love the Paul Revere head slap).

Catfood: Earth, PdfScan and Weather

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Three recent Catfood Software updates:

Catfood Earth 3.10 includes rotation to longitude / solar time, volcanoes, a screen saver, time zone updates and more. Catfood Earth uses satellite imagery and a variety of data feeds to render jaw-dropping live desktop wallpaper.

Catfood Earth 3.10

Catfood PdfScan 1.10 saves your selected paper size and feeder choices. There is also an option to keep PdfScan open after saving a scan, something that had been bugging me when slogging through large digitization projects. PdfScan is a free tool for scanning stuff into a PDF file.

Catfood PdfScan 1.10

Catfood Weather 2.00 includes weather alerts and an updated UI. Catfood Weather provides a free, taskbar based weather forecast for US locations.

Catfood Weather 2.00

International Date Line Longitude, Latitude Coordinates

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

International Date Line

I’ve been working on an update to Catfood Earth. Several people have asked me to draw the International Date Line on the time zones layer but I’ve struggled to find a decent source for the coordinates of the line segments. I finally ended up manually digitizing the version of the line that appears on Wikipedia. The original is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported so I’m making the coordinates below available under the same license:

Longitude Latitude
180.0000 90.0000
180.0000 75.0000
-169.2500 67.7356
-169.2500 65.0189
170.0500 52.6863
180.0000 47.8353
180.0000 -0.9000
-159.6500 -0.9000
-159.6500 2.9000
-161.8500 2.9000
-161.8500 5.0000
-155.9500 5.0000
-150.6500 -7.8000
-150.6500 -10.0000
-156.0500 -10.0000
-156.0500 -7.8000
-178.0500 -7.80000
-172.7500 -15.0000
-172.7500 -45.0000
180.0000 -51.1815
180.0000 -90.0000

This looks great for Catfood Earth. Please take the coordinates with a pinch of salt if you’re designing a cruise missile guidance system or something.

Reviews and links for May 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

3/5

The first couple of chapters are hilarious and then it's a solid, sprawling family drama with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. I just couldn't click with any of the characters and ultimately didn't care how things turned out for any of them.

 

Links

- S.F. bus driver marks 40 years behind the wheel from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (A career spanning nearly three blocks of Mission ;)).

- Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Need to stage an addiction to emergency powers intervention...).

- Sarkozy questions 'neutral' net from BBC News - Home (Right, because someone might see a photo of someone in a burqa).

- Many baby items found to contain toxic chemicals from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Goes up to 100% once baby has actually used them.).

- Preview Coming Bay Bridge Road Change With New App from KQED News Fix (Android users smart enough to drive without an app preview...).

- In 3D - ants as you have never seen them before from BBC News - Home (Um, no. Unless you're a cyclops this is exactly how you see ants.).

- Magna Carta: Live! from KQED News Fix (Should really go and see this...).

- Police called as dog bites voters from BBC News - Home (It's a case of 'first past the pug').

- Photo: Obama and National Security team during Osama kill operation from Boing Boing (That looks like one lame situation room.).

Apparently you can’t build an alternative to Facebook without Facebook integration…

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Altly - We are working on an Alternative to Facebook

CAPTCHA advertising

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Norton 360 CAPTCHA ad

It’s kind of clever because not only do you have to read the ad but you also have to type part of it in so their catch phrase is more likely to stick.

It’s mostly throw up in your mouth, because it takes a while to even figure out that this is a CAPTCHA and because you know that you could be digitizing books instead.

Spotted on boxbe, although some light Googling suggests that this has been around for a few years.

Lake Merritt

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA Hike on May 5, 2011

The path around Lake Merritt is a pleasant hour-ish hike in downtown Oakland. In addition to a startling variety of waterfowl (apparently it’s the first official wildlife refuge in the US) Lake Merritt is the home of Fairyland which I fear I may be forced to visit in the not to distant future.

Birds at Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

(3.76 miles, 1 hour 2 minutes, average 3.64 mph, view in Google Earth).

Hike starts at: 37.808922, -122.263224.

Dog First Aid

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

After decades of ethnographic and quantitative research into the medical skills of Canis lupis familiaris I can finally publish a detailed guide to canine medical lore:

  1. Lick it.
  2. If, for any reason, step 1 fails to work eat grass until you throw up.

Universities wishing to bestow an honorary DVM should contact me at @abfo.

Reviews and links for April 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

2/5

Promising start, Mark 'system internals' Russinovich certainly knows his stuff and the initial computer forensics are bang on. Sadly it descends into a pedestrian chase thriller and the malware takes a back seat to cookie cutter Arab terrorists.

 

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

5/5

An education on many different species of parallel universes: in space, in time, in dimensions, in simulations and more. Interesting detours into the current state of cosmology and quantum theory and much discussion on the nature of science when exploring realms that may forever be closed to observation (although it's surprising how many of the parallel universes may leave some detectable footprint in ours, or be conclusively ruled out by future experiments). Fascinating and very well written.

 

Links

- SF Chronicle video prompts White House threat from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Petty. What did you just say about having more important things to do? #Obama).

- Mayor Ed Lee Opposed to Shark Fin Ban from KQED News Fix (Boo temporary Mayor!).

- Reserve marine life 'flourishing' from BBC News - Home (Are scallops in some sense not wildlife?).

- Homes' solar panels often boost values from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Yippee! That was my theory when we did it...).

- Bernalwood’s Wild Kingdom, or How To Deal Unwanted Guests from Bernalwood (It's like Cloverfield in a garage!).

Legislative Service

Updated on Saturday, April 21, 2018

congress

Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” and since then we seem to have given up trying to find a better one. Twiddling with the mechanics of voting doesn’t count.

My idea: Legislative Service. This is modeled on Jury Service only instead of judging a person you’re asked to judge a proposed bill. In your typical bicameral system of government the Legislative Service would replace the upper house. The Senate in the US, The House of Lords in the UK.

In a US version 101 citizens would be randomly drafted for each bill. The pros and cons of the bill would be presented in an adversarial environment, much like a jury trial. The citizen legislators would then vote anonymously and either pass the bill or send it back to the House of Representatives. The President would retain the right to veto a bill.

Such a system would castrate the malign influence of money and lobbyists in the political system. It would also improve engagement as more citizens take part or talk to friends and family who have served.

You would still have professional legislators who would be responsible to their constituents. They’d just have a harder time adding pork and returning favors. Each bill would need to be palatable to a majority of average citizens.

Possible objections:

People dodge jury service all the time. Wouldn’t you end up with a similar problem? I don’t think so. Legislative Jury would be far more prestigious.

Isn’t the average voter too stupid to understand complex legislation? You are the average voter. In any case, the adversarial system would give both sides a chance to both argue and explain. Expert witnesses could be called. Ballot measures that are voted on by the entire electorate suffer from this problem as money is spent to over-simplify and obfuscate. In Legislative Service you’re taking a representative sample of the electorate and giving them the time and help needed to make a serious judgment.

It’s unconstitutional! This would require a constitutional amendment.

What about knee-jerk legislation? Tyranny of the Majority? Hopefully this system would help to put a brake on hasty and ill-thought through bills. The President would retain veto power and the Supreme Court would be able to annul unconstitutional decisions and so sufficient checks and balances would remain in the system.

Of course getting rid of The Senate isn’t going to happen overnight. I can think of a couple of ways to start moving in the right direction.

Firstly, this plan is just as applicable at the state level. My state, California, is a mess and this proposal could help. There are rumblings about holding a constitutional convention and if this happens I want us to ditch ballot initiatives and replace the State Senate with Legislative Service.

Secondly, and more plausibly, what about setting up Legislative Service as a non-profit to look at each bill and vote on it but without the actual power of preventing bad bills from being enacted? A sort of non-partisan citizen think tank. If any of my billionaire readers are interested get in touch.

I’ve been mulling the idea of Legislative Service for quite some time, but especially following the atrocious reform of the British House of Lords in 1999 resulting in an upper house composed of appointed peers, a handful of hereditary peers and a few bishops. This threw the independent oversight baby out with the unelected toffs bathwater. Since 1999 I’ve lived in California and my revulsion for the US political climate keeps growing. Serious change is needed. I think Legislative Service is it.