Sat. March 27: No Tech Day

A UK charity, Practical Action, is sponsoring No Tech Day. They have this interesting quote:

No Tech Day is a challenge for gadget addicts to go without their favourite tech toys for a day this Saturday, March 27th 2010, to raise awareness of how much we all rely on and use gadgets in our everyday life, and think what life is like for people in the developing world who do not have the same access to technology and energy.

Call me a skeptic, but there are thosethose who choose to go without technology, and do just fine. It is certainly possible to do well without technology: lack of technology does not equal poverty.

However, going without technology can also teach us how dependent we are on tech and show us what we are missing in The Real World.

Will I take part? Not sure yet… Maybe…

Happy Pi Day!

Among all the blogs I read these days, I was surprised to see no mention of Pi Day (yesterday, 3/14) among them. The only mention I saw was on a law blog (The Volokh Conspiracy) by both Kenneth Anderson and Eugene Volokh.

Eugene also took issue with some definitions of pi, noting that a commonly used definition doesn’t properly state the definition of a transcendental number, confusing it with the definition of an irrational number.

A transcendental number is one that cannot be represented as a polynomial with integer coefficients. All transcendental numbers are irrational, but not all irrational numbers are transcendental. Both pi and e are irrational and transcendental.

CNN also had a nice write-up on Pi Day, although not on Pi Day but on the Friday before.

Pi is a number which has fascinated mathematicians and others all over the world for ages. Many have gotten pi tattooed on their bodies, including formulas that solve for pi; my favorite is this one that combines pi with beautiful typography. (If you want more science and math tattoos, check out the rest of the Tuesday Physics Tattoos.)

Others have created poetry from the digits of pi; perhaps the most extensive of these is the Cadaeic Cadenza. The Cadaeic Cadenza is a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, but with each word letter-count matching up with the digits in pi. Even the name: “cadaeic”, when replaced by the positions of the letters in the English alphabet, is 3 1 4 1 5 9 2 (the first seven digits of pi).

Many have tried to memorize the digits of pi. I’ve known pi to 5 places for a long time, and recently have begun to expand upon that.

Entire books have been written about pi; the most widely known may be the Joy of Pi, written by David Blatner, and with a web page at One more unusual book is the seven-book series of 140 million places of pi from Pi Magus – who even has a 69-minute reciting of pi to 10,000 places.

So what did you do on Pi Day?

Adblockers Killing Web Sites?

Recently, ArsTechnica had a very persuasive article about why adblockers are devastating to web sites. This is a subject that I’ve been wrangling with since David Adams from OSNews told some of us of his troubles a few months back.

The adblockers in most cases actually prevent from being downloaded at all – and thus actually cut into a website’s revenue. I know there have been some adblockers that actually download the ads but refuse to display them (something relying on GreaseMonkey will operate this way).

The article from ArsTechnica came about because they testing entirely rejecting users who used adblockers.

The only real downside is that if you enable ads, those on slow connections will have that much longer to wait – and many ads are quite large, and are not cacheable. It is incredibly annoying – and costly to those being charged by the byte – to download large ads, especially over slow links.

With that caveat, I have started whitelisting the sites that I go to the most and that don’t have obnoxious ads on them.

UPDATE: Seems that the Ars Technica article has reverberated in cyberspace… Techdirt took notice – and took issue with the article and its points. Over at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Laura McGann talked with Ars editor-in-chief Ken Fisher about the community response to the blocking and to the article.

Winter Storm Blew Through

2009 Winter Storm, Wisconsin, USA

2009 Winter Storm, Wisconsin, USA

2009 Winter Storm, Wisconsin, USA

Winter Storm!

The first winter storm of the year is coming to town: time to hunker down.

In the Snowbelt, one better be sure that your power is good and your generators are working well: power outages happen often during winter storms. If you’ve not tested it? You will soon.

Drive carefully – be safe. Maybe I’ll post some pictures – why not?

Why I Hate Radio (mobile – wifi – et al): A Rant

I’m fed up with how things are with radio – at least with amateur radio (which I enjoy thoroughly) you can do something about these problems.

Sitting here in the local library and using their wireless, my system is re-negotiating about once a minute (there it goes!) which means that any web pages stall or die half-way through, and Firefox may lock up entirely until the network either returns or fails outright.

Another (larger) library nearby provides the same service without the constant reconnection to a new wireless access point – although that library has poor reception in various areas; better take that laptop on a ride through the library to get the best reception. Some sections of that library have no reception at all (like the children’s section).

Yet another (but very small) library has excellent wireless – presumably because they have only one access point which blankets the entire library (I said it was small).

None of this talk of wifi talks about the speed: 11Mb/s is a theoretical maximum for 802.11b which was surpassed in the 1980s by 10BaseT (which is now obsolete).

Mobile phone response is no better. From my house, I can see the phone tower – though it is not overhead, but a half-mile away or so. Even so, I can’t get a connection, every phone call is a mash of incomprehensible clips, and the cellular internet comes and goes (but mostly goes, dropping off or not allowing connections at all).

This cellular reception is from a company that provides blanket service across the upper midwestern United States.

When will wifi and mobile phone carriers provide strong, constant access without dead spots, and with reasonable speeds?

About Blogging – and Journalism

There is a very interesting article over at the Columbia Journalism Review about how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was misquoted, and the diversity of reactions by the various media outlets (including old school and new school) that had to correct their words.

What makes this even more interesting is the article by Mike Masnick over at TechDirt: he views blogging as a conversation between the blogger and the readers. This caught my attention, since I have a strong interest in journalism in general, including blogging.

I’ve often thought about this – correcting articles – and what the style of my corrections should be. Unlike Mike in his article, I view this endeavor (and others like it) as a form of journalism: thus, small edits will crop up in my articles from time to time. Large edits (or additions) warrant an appropriate journalistic notification: I use the word “Update” (in bold) to expand an already written article.

To me, the conversation is about the article and takes place in the comments – which conversation has proven valuable more than once. I view each article as a journalistic piece and try to fix any errors as they show up without a lot of fuss (except for giving thanks to whoever might have pointed an error out).

New programming blog: Programmagic!

As a programmer, I have found that system administration benefits from a lot more programming than most people realize. Scripting languages are not limited to just the UNIX shell – nor to Perl.

There is a new blog, a sister blog to this one, entitled Programmagic! which will focus on programming. It will focus on lesser used languages like Lua, Scala, LISP, Smalltalk, and many others.

Recent posts are on Scala; there are many more to come. Why not come visit?

Software I am most thankful for

There are a number of articles about being thankful, as this is the American holiday Thanksgiving.

What software am I thankful for? I have several that I would name:

  • UNIX. UNIX was created by researchers at AT&T in 1969; nothing has been the same since AT&T let it loose. Its descendents are everywhere today, and provide sustenance for me and my family.
  • BSD. BSD and the pioneering work by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) gave us freely available BSD variants, the Fast File System, vi, csh and lots more innovations – not to mention the commercial start of Sun Solaris.
  • Mosaic. This software package was possibly the first graphical web browser, and thus the beginning of the World Wide Web as we know it today; nothing has ever been the same since.
  • gcc. It was this C compiler that helped galvanize a revolution in software development, leading to the massive open source arena we know today. If it were not for gcc, how many projects would now lay fallow and dormant?
  • Emacs. Yes, Emacs. I do love vi, and use it first by choice, and will always. But it was Emacs that gave the impetus to create the Free Software Foundation, which organization has done more for open source and free software than can ever be repaid. Emacs also led directly to the creation of the GNU General Public License (or GPL).
  • HP-UX. This is the operating system that fills my days with work and my pockets with change. How can I be but thankful for that?

There’s lots of other things to be thankful for other than software – I, for one, am most thankful for you, dear reader, for letting me write to you for these many months. I’ve no intention of stopping any time soon.

Blog Day!

Blog Day is supposed to be a day to introduce you to other blogs you may not have heard of before. Perhaps you have heard of these, perhaps not – I’ll try to stick to ones that are in different subject areas and are perhaps lesser known. Here are some that I’m reading:

More about Blog Day is here.


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