Archive for November 2006
Via Lifehacker, these tips on how to find Amazon discounts and deals. I know the Lady of the Lake will in particular find these useful.
UPDATE: Scientific American has more:
The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads nearby has dramatically pushed back the earliest evidence for ritual behavior, or what could be called religion. The finding, which researchers have yet to formally publish, comes from a cave hidden in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.
“It’s very big news,” says Sheila Coulson, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway and leader of the study. Prior to the discovery, researchers had identified signs of ritual practice going back at most 40,000 years from sites in Europe.
Researchers believe that anatomically modern humans emerged from East Africa perhaps 120,000 years ago. “The difficulty was always this incredible time lag between that occurrence and any more complex aspect of the culture other than just basic survival,” Coulson says. Although some carved ornaments and wall markings from another African site are as old as the new find, they seem to have had no obvious ritual significance.
A chief of the local San people invited Coulson and her colleagues to study the cave in Tsodilo Hills. They were unprepared for what they found when they entered: a six-meter-long rock that bore a striking resemblance to a snake, including a mouthlike gash at the end. “My first words I remember saying are, ‘My god what is that?’” Coulson says. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
Hundreds of small notches, widely spaced in some places and closer together in others, covered the rock. Entrants to the cave apparently made these markings to enhance the snake illusion by creating the impression of scales and movement [see picture below]. “When flickering light hits it, it very much looks like the snake is flexing,” Coulson says. Snakes feature prominently in the traditions and the mythology of the San, sometimes called the Bushmen.
Although many of the carvings looked old, more reliable markers of the site’s longevity lay buried in rock half a meter beneath the soft cave floor. In a one-meter-wide, two-meter-deep excavation right next to the snake, the researchers uncovered more than 100 multicolored spear points from a total of 13,000 man-made artifacts.
The tips closely resemble those found elsewhere in Africa that researchers have dated at up to 77,000 years old, Coulson says. Judging from the rare colors of the stone points and the pattern of fragments, people from far and wide likely brought them to the cave partially made and finished working them there, she explains.
Some of the stone tips seem to have been burned or smashed in what may have been a type of sacrifice. Of 22 tips made from red stone, all of them show cracks and faults consistent with exposure to high heat, Coulson says, and some were burned white. Other spearheads exhibit chips and marks that suggest someone had struck the finished tips dead-on, something that researchers have observed at sites in Siberia, she notes.
“You put it all together and clearly something very extraordinary is happening,” says archaeologist and prehistoric religion specialist Neil Price, also at the University of Oslo, who was not part of the dig. “You have things occurring over a long period of time that do not have a functional explanation. There must be a whole complex of thinking behind these actions, and that in itself is exciting.”
Interesting speculations: fifty leading scientists guess what the big breakthroughs of the next 50 years will be.
This write-up characterizes Google Checkout as “like PayPal, without the evil.” (After his marijuana bust Robert Mitchum was asked what jail was like, and famously responded, “Like Palm Springs without the riff-raff.”)
Read at the link, watch the video, and decide…
Doing my best—my very best—was once a total mystery to me. I had no idea of how to do it, and really wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t doing it. I coasted through school because coasting (for me, at least) was sufficient. When I did study, it was sporadic rather than sustained.
I did learn how to write a paper, along the way, because a tutor demanded it:
In my sophomore year at St. John’s College (Annapolis MD), I had a tutor, Ford K. Brown, who introduced me to a variation of this (PDF). He asked for a 4-sentence outline of my proposed sophomore essay:
1. The first sentence is what the essays says—not what it’s “about,” but what it says.
2. The next three sentences support and lead to the first sentence—that is, the first sentence logically follows from the next three sentences.
I was not even to start writing the paper until he had approved the four sentences. He had me go away, review my notes, and return a day or two later with 4 sentences. I did, and he read them, handed the slip of paper back to me, and reiterated 1 and 2 above, slowly, carefully, and emphatically.
I went away, read the play again (I was writing an essay on Othello), thought about it, made more notes, reviewed all my notes, and wrote 4 more sentences. This took about a week.
I took the 4 sentences to him, he read them, then he once again handed me back the slip of paper, once more repeating 1 and 2 slowly, carefully, emphatically.
I think this happened once more, and then he said, “I think we’re running out of time. Go ahead and write the paper, but…” and he repeated 1 and 2 once more.
I wrote the paper, and I was astounded. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and where I was going. At one point, I got off track and realized it (never before possible when I was writing—improvising—a paper), excised the digression, and continued. Each of the three sentences became a section of the paper, and the paper really did say what I wanted it to say. It was an eye-opening exercise.
With that exception, I still had no knowledge of doing my best. But in graduate school (at the University of Iowa), I found myself with a new daughter and no job and no money. Desperate, I searched for work, found a job as an apprentice programmer, and started work.
Once again I was coasting—all I knew—and then the Big Boss called in me and two other new programmers and chewed us out. Did he chew our ass out? No, he chewed all around until it fell out. He told us specifically that if we wanted a “9-to-5 dick-around job” to leave now.
Man, I was scared. Just got the job, still with daughter and wife to support, and I was about to lose it. Right then was when I learned how to make a maximum effort—which turned out to require only one thing: to ask myself “Is there anything else I could do or should do?” and if the answer was “Yes,” then to do that thing.
By doing—literally—everything I could think of, I was at least comfortable that, if it didn’t work out, it would not find me saying to myself, “I knew I should have done X.” If I could possibly think of X, I did X. Nothing—nothing—was left undone.
The result was that I did more than I ever thought I could, and better.
So that was how I learned to work—to put forth maximum effort. Some years later, a colleague told me a story about a guy he knew who was working for Henry Kissinger. The guy had to write a report, which he turned in to Kissinger. The next day, Kissinger asked the guy, “Is that the best you can do?”
The guy gulped, asked if he could have the report back, and spent another week on it. He handed it in again, Kissinger kept it overnight, and the next day again asked, “Is that the best you can do?”
The guy took the report back again, spent a solid week on it—researching, rewriting, editing, revising more, condensing, polishing, rereading, and so on—and handed it in one more time.
Kissinger the next day asked the question the guy was dreading: “Is that the best you can do?” The guy swallowed, prepared himself internally for being fired on the spot, looked Kissinger in the eye, and said, “Yes, sir, that is the best I can do.” Whereupon Kissinger put the report under his arm and said, “Good. Now I’ll read it.”
A slightly altered ending to Charlie Brown Christmas.
A list of Microsoft “innovations”, actually developed elsewhere. Some I knew, some I didn’t.
I linked to this before, but now you can select from more algorithms. Choose algorithm and click image to see the sort in action.
This article suggests some coming upsets in physics—if the experiments work out, of course: invisibility, anti-gravity, and perpetual motion. Take a look.
You can find even more through the links. The only one that I will probably use:
Start > Turn Off Computer… > press Shift key to change the “Stand By” button to “Hibernate”
What if programming languages were women? A male programmer might describe them in this way:
There are so many programming languages available that it can be very difficult to get to know them all well enough to pick the right one for you. On the other hand most men know what kind of woman appeals to them. So here is a handy guide for many of the popular programming languages that describes what kind of women they would be if programming languages were women.
Assembler – A female track star who holds all the world speed records. She is hard and bumpy, and so is not that pleasant to embrace. She can cook up any meal, but needs a complete and detailed recipe. She is not beautiful or educated, and speaks in monosyllables like “MOV, JUMP, INC”. She has a fierce and violent temper that make her the choice of last resort.
FORTRAN – Your grey-haired grandmother. People make fun of her just because she is old, but if you take the time to listen, you can learn from her experiences and her mistakes. During her lifetime she has acquired many useful skills in sewing and cooking (subroutine libraries) that no younger women can match, so be thankful she is still around. She has a notoriously bad temper and when angered will start yelling and throwing dishes. It was mostly her bad temper that made grand dad search for another wife.
COBOL – A plump secretary. She talks far too much, and most of what she says can be ignored. She works hard and long hours, but can’t handle really complicated jobs. She has a short and unpredictable temper, so no one really likes working with her. She can cook meals for a huge family, but only knows bland recipes.
BASIC – The horny divorcee that lives next door. Her specialty is seducing young boys and it seems she is always readily available for them. She teaches them many amazing things, or at least they seem amazing because it is their first experience. She is not that young herself, but because she was their first lover the boys always remember her fondly. Her cooking and sewing skills are mediocre, but largely irrelevant, it’s the frolicking that the boys like. The opinion that adults have of Mrs. BASIC is varied. Shockingly, some fathers actually introduce their own sons to this immoral woman! But generally the more righteous adults try to correct the badly influenced young men by introducing them to well behaved women like Miss Pascal.
PL/I – A bordello madam. She wears silk dresses, diamonds, furs and red high heels. At one time she seemed very attractive, but now she just seems overweight and tacky. Tastes change.
It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation’s intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.
Because plans for implementing the commission’s recommendations are still fluid, Democratic officials would not speak for the record. But aides on the House and Senate appropriations, armed services and intelligence committees confirmed this week that a reorganization of Congress would not be part of the package of homeland-security changes up for passage in the “first 100 hours” of the Democratic Congress.
“I don’t think that suggestion is going anywhere,” said Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and a close ally of the incoming subcommittee chairman, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). “That is not going to be their party position.”
It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress’s failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees’ gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels’ defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.
But the commission was unequivocal about the need.
“Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important,” the panel wrote. “So long as oversight is governed by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need.”
Now Democrats are balking, just as Republicans did before them.
Here’s an argument made by Right-Winger David Frum:
Imagine if the Republicans had retained their Congressional majority and the first thing they did was suggest big new subsidies for, say, the oil industry. Would there no public outrage?
But that’s exactly what the Democrats are now offering their staunch supporters in academia. The Democrats are proposing big new subsidies for college tuition: new loans, new grants, new tax deductions.
Of course the Republicans, while a majority in Congress, did pass many large new subsidies for the oil industry. But now the Democrats are going to help public universities and college students? That’s bad? What (if anything) is he thinking?
Read the whole thing at the link. I’m not making it up.
I agree that it’s probably not a well-populated category, but the music video linked to in this post is indeed hilarious, especially if you occasionally think about economics.
Sometimes when you are filling in forms on a site (a task that normally is done for me by Roboform Pro, but occasionally I needs must do it), you find that, for example, the “email” text box is about ten characters wide. It scrolls, so you can still enter your full email address, but, really!
I am a great admirer of Preston Sturges. Indeed, The Lady Eve, with Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, and William Demarest could make a claim on being my favorite movie. The Great McGinty is a wonderful look at local politics, Ohio style. The Palm Beach Story is simply wonderful.
So: for this Christmas, give yourself an excellent Preston Sturges collection. Seven movies at $6 apiece—very reasonable indeed.
A good line from The Lady Eve: Charles Coburn and Henry Fonda, sitting in a luxury liner’s bar, where Fonda has just told Coburn that he wants to marry Stanwyck, playing Coburn’s daughter. “My boy,” Coburn says, “this calls for a drink.” Then, to a passing waiter, “Waiter! Two drinks.” “Yessir,” says the waiter, hurrying off with the order.
Those with an interest in fashion should check out Barbara Stanwyck’s dresses, cut to solve her figure problem (extraordinarily long-waisted) and make her role as a gorgeous leading lady possible.