Thursday, August 21, 2003

No Looking Back Jacques Villeneuve, former world champion and current frequent backmarker for British-American Racing is suggesting a radical change to the cars. By removing the rearview mirrors, he thinks that there will be less defensive driving and thus more passing. It's possible, although the extremely limited range of head movement that a modern racing driver has would make it almost impossible to be aware of a car alongside you, which it seems would increas the likelihood of a collision in corners.

More on Bush

Via the Slate Fray, a long and quite well-written essay on the president. The tone is set near the beginning,

And one, one of these scumbags prances before the public eye, nakedly self-aggrandizing... contemptuous of America, contemptuous of Americans, contemptuous of his detractors, contemptuous of his supporters... and nobody seems to notice. And that one, I call him George W. Bush.

I found the whole thing to be worth a read however. One of those essays that you can point to and say "What he said!"

UPDATE: Slate's links rot (or at least change) so I changed the link to point to the original Fray article.

Friday, August 15, 2003

He Who Must Not Be Named

I thought I caught this on NPR yesterday, but it was quickly swamped by blackout coverage. Still, a check of the online White House transcripts did have the President's remarks at an Air Station near San Diego yesterday.

The quote that they had on NPR that rather leapt out at me was

: "In the last two days, we captured a major terrorist, named Hambali. He's a known killer who was a close associate of September the 11th mastermind Khalid Shaykh Muhammad."
Now it's just a wild guess, but I would say if you asked 100 people in the country who was the mastermind behind 9/11, very few of them would mention Khalid. However, since he's the one who has been captured, he gets named.

While this doesn't rise to the level of "historical revisionism" (which is a very low bar at the moment) it certainly seems to be yet another self-serving view of history from our cynical administration.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Software I Want

I get a bunch of e-newsletters from Infoworld. As a rule they are fairly interesting, and actually replicate so much of the content of the actual magazine that I rarely open the paper version any more. In the last couple of weeks they have started to roll over their newsletter source addresses from X@bdcimail.com (or something like that ) to X@newsletter.infoworld.com. This, combined with a set of new correspondents, has had me recreating a bunch of e-mail filters in an attempt to guide e-mail to its final location in my system.

I shouldn't have to do this, or at least I shouldn't have to do more than a little training. At the moment I am using PopFile as an e-mail proxy that performs initial bucketing classification for me. I divide my mail into 11 broad categories (termed buckets), and then use Eudora's filters to further subclassify the mail into the appropriate folder. I noticed that Popfile was able to successfully identify the newsletters as still coming from Infoworld (one of my buckets) despite the address change, but Eudora was discombobulated by the change and largely ignored the mail. This made me realise that I want an e-mail client with Bayesian filtering, and a filter attached to each mailbox. Then when I reclassify mail (i.e., move it from my Inbox to a particular folder) I want it to start to learn where I put things, so that it can classify things in the future. It shouldn't be so much to ask.

With PopFile, I've had 98.97% accurate filtering since June 11th, spread over 11 buckets. If I were doing simple Spam/Ham filtering instead it would probably be well over 99% accurate. Now, in Eudora I probably have over a hundred mailboxes (I'm a packrat) but probably only 20 of them get significant traffic. With a learning Bayesian system, I would expect to see rapidly increasing accuracy in classification with little or no direct action on my part. This type of advance is where the productivity savings promised by the information age start to pay off.

Bandwidth Starvation

For most of this week my ISP has been experiencing severe difficulties, which finally seem to have cleared up today. DNS services were flaky, bandwidth was way down, my IP address (assigned via DHCP) was fluctuating. This leads me to suspect that the local Network Operations Center was having server problems. Given that this was the same week that the SanLuv worm was active and generating headlines, I have to wonder if there is a connection between the two events.

The thing that I find most worrying about this is the frequency with which this is occurring. We hooked up with our ISP after moving to Pittsburgh last October. Through the beginning of July we had no problems at all with them -- bandwidth was constant and high, and I don't recal the connection ever going down. Then on July 1st the sale of our ISP to another entity was completed. Since then we have gone through two multi-day bandwidth limiting events. As part of the sale, I assume that our current ISP bought the entire infrastructure of the old system, so I really don't know of a technical reason why they would be suffering outages. I suspect that it is either management problems or understaffing, and I find that worrying. We also don't really have a choice in provider, as far as I can tell, unless we were to undergo a major change in technology.

If this sort of thing keeps happening monthly, however, we will probably have to start looking at DSL as an alternative. But the horror stories that I heard from friends about DSL in Austin make me very wary of going that route. (In the worst case, I know someone who changed apartments within the same complex, and it took his DSL line 6 months to follow him).

Friday, August 08, 2003

Silly Season Supreme

Just to keep F1 Journalists busy in August -- a month without testing -- all sorts of odd stories and rumors start popping up. Last night the news broke that the Canadian GP in Montreal has been dropped from the 2004 calendar, in response to the Canadian Government's tobacco advertising ban. The race director, Normand Legault, announced that he had received a letter from Bernie Ecclestone informing him of the decision.

This morning Ecclestone is denying the cancellation. Given that the Canadian GP is one of the more popular stops on the circute -- always selling out, and also apparently garnering a huge TV audience in Europe, this seems like an odd decision on the face of it, espcially after seeing the empty stands at the Hockenheim race last weekend (Germany's second Grand Prix).

The Canadian GP is the only one that I have ever attended in person. In addition to being fairly close to here, the weak Canadian dollar makes it a good vacation trip, and we have relatives who can babysit for us in Montreal. While we can certainly drive to the USGP in Indianapolis, it is unlikely to be the same atmosphere -- Montreal really does know how to throw a party. Ah well, for the moment CART also has a Montreal GP, so perhaps we can try that instead.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

More News from da 'Burgh

Also in the news recently was some census information. Adding to the region's woes, is a continued general exodus from the rust belt to the sun belt. The region lost 58,000 residents from 1995-2000, or 220 people/week. Despite that, houses are still listing at well above their assessed value -- which may just be a quirk of the assessment process that I haven't figured out yet!

News in da 'Burgh

Citing a tax system that is decades out of date, Mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh moved yesterday to announce some 700 layoffs in the city workforce (102 police, all school crossing guards, plus others) the immediate closing of most of the city swimming pools, several senior centers and all recreation centers. Also certain other city-wide events scheduled for the fall will be cancelled. This will save the city about $6,500,000 of its $60,000,000 deficit, and it isn't too clear yet where the remaining 90% is going to come from.

The problem with the tax system is that since the 1960's, when it was last overhauled, Pittsburgh has suffered from serious suburban flight. The city itself now has fewer than 500,000 residents, although the Metro area is still around 1.5 million, most of whom go into the city at some point during the year. Pretty much a classic rust belt scenario.

The mayor has proposed one increased tax and two new ones. He wants an increase in the occupation tax paid by everyone who works in the city. Right now it is $10/year, and he wants to raise it to $100/year. He wants to slap a 10% tax on liquor by the drink that is served within the city (I'm not sure if this would apply to wine in restaurants) and he wants to institute a payroll tax on all employers in the city, in an attempt to get some money from organizations that are otherwise tax exempt -- Universities, Government, Hospitals, etc. Pittsburgh does seem to have a large number of these.

Unfortunately, it seems that Pittsburgh is not actually allowed to change its tax system unilaterally. All tax increases have to be approved by the legislature in Harrisburg. They are in complete denial at the moment, and will not allow any new taxes to be passed anywhere, apparently in a desperate attempt to make voters like them. Even more oddly, they won't even go back in session to disburse an additional $900,000,000 that the Federal Government has given to the state to ease local deficits. Many details are at the Post-Gazette in this story.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Silverstone & Hockenheim

After the rather boring procession that was the French GP at Magny-Cours, the British and German Grands Prix have both been rather entertaining -- with passing and everything. It could even be argued that the German GP was made more entertaining by the new rules introduced this year -- the first time that has happened.

But first to Silverstone, where a mad spectator managed to get onto the track and go running down the straight while cars came at him rather fast. Astonishingly the drivers missed him, and the only injuries he sustained were as he was hauled off the track by the marshals. He was wearing a kilt and while there was initial speculation that he was a Scottish Nationalist, as he was removed from the track his kilt flipped up revealing rather bright green underpants. the obvious supposition at that point was that he was Irish, and indeed he turned out to be an Irish priest who wanted everyone to read the bible. His entry on the track sent everyone to the pits, however, where their order was scrambled, leading to a lot of real driving to put the leaders in front. In the end the race was won by Rubens Barrichello, who (oddly enough) won the last race where a protester got onto the track, in Germany a few years ago.

On to Germany, where a number of front runners had difficulty with single-car qualifying for some reason, leading to a scrambled grid, thanks to the new rules. Then Ralf Schumacher made a bit of a bonehead move early in the race and took out three of the points leaders (including himself) and suddenly there was a credible race for the points-paying places as slots opened up. Montoya led the race flag to flag, but from places 2-8 there was a lot of actual racing for position.

Town vs. Gown

It seems so common to read about conflict between a University and the town that it is in (tax issues, student troubles, etc.). From Oblomovka, however, is a story about a successful town/gown joint venture.

The sharing of a mutual resource is a great idea, and the presence of Easter Eggs seems to indicate that a lot of thought went into the planning and design of the building.