Short Nerd Chief

VDOT Demonstrates How Not To Improve Traffic Flow

Posted by Fred on June 13, 2008

Here’s an open plea to the traffic engineering geniuses at VDOT.  Please don’t use signs like the one pictured above to warn morning commuters that today is an Ozone Alert Day and implore us to carpool or use transit, the way you did on I-64 west of Richmond this morning. Commuters already inbound at 8:00 a.m. are extremely unlikely to turn around and take transit, so it’s not going to help anyway.  More importantly, drivers seeing signs like this assume the sign imparts useful information, and slow down to read the message, thus severely cramping traffic flow to no benefit whatsoever.  This morning was worse than a rainy day in Richmond (which is another issue altogether).

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Puppy blogging

Posted by Fred on June 9, 2008

This is Layla, a new resident in our home and the reason I’m so tired today…

Layla is named after (depending on how you look at it) either the classic Derek & The Dominos song or Layla Al-Aamiriya from the 7th century Arabic love story Layla and Majnun.

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New from Google: Gadgets for Linux and Gmail Labs

Posted by Fred on June 9, 2008

Over the past couple of days, Google has rolled out a couple of interesting new products, a version of Google Gadgets for Linux and Gmail Labs, a testbed for new features for Gmail.

Google Gadgets for Linux is about what you’d expect, an implementation of Google’s gadget platform, previously available only to Windows and Mac users, for either the GTK+ or QT toolkits.  For those who care about such things, GGL is licensed under the Apache License, rather than the closed-source license for the other platforms.  To install, you’ll need to build from source, which is not a big deal, although it does require an Ubuntu user to jump through some hoops first.

The first step is to install some additional packages, if you don’t do much development work:

sudo apt-get install subversion build-essential zlib1g-dev libmozjs-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev libxml2-dev libdbus-1-dev libmozjs-dev libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-dev libcurl3-openssl-dev libdbus-1-dev libxul-dev libcurl3 libcurl3-dbg libcurl3-gnutls libcurl4-openssl-dev libcurl-ocaml libmozjs0d libmozjs0d-dbg libmozjs-dev g++-4.2-multilib g++

Some of these packages may already be installed, many undoubtedly are not.  Now download the source from Google.  You can get a source package, but it may be outdated, so I used the svn repository.  From a terminal, do this:

svn checkout http://google-gadgets-for-linux.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ google-gadgets-for-linux-read-only

Assuming you’re using the svn repository, prepare the build script:
cd google-gadgets-for-linux-read-only
sh autotools/bootstrap.sh

Now configure and build from the source code:
mkdir -p build/debug
cd build/debug
../../configure --enable-debug --disable-qt-host --disable-qt-system-framework --disable-qt-xml-http-request --disable-libggadget-qt --disable-qtwebkit-browser-element
make
sudo make install
sudo ldconfig

To start the sidebar, hit ALT-F2 and run ggl-gtk.  An icon will appear in the panel, which you can right-click to add gadgets.  To run at startup, click System>Preferences>Sessions and add ggl-gtk to the Startup Programs tab. If you want to use QT, build using just ../../configure –enable-debug and run ggl-qt instead.

Gmail Labs adds some experimental features to Gmail, many of which probably could be added via Greasemonkey scripts.  Unlike Greasemonkey, the Gmail labs features appear to be available in any browser.  To turn Gmail Labs on, go to Settings/Labs and enable features one at a time.  As of this writing, there are 13 available, ranging from Custom Date Formats, which “adds options to the general settings page allowing the date and time format to be changed independent of language. For example, you can use a 24-hour clock (14:57) or show dates with the day first (31/12/07)” to Signature Tweaks, which “places your signature before the quoted text in a reply, and removes the ‘–‘ line that appears before signatures.”  Most of these don’t do much for me, but there are two I enabled:

Quick Links “adds a box to the left column that gives you 1-click access to any bookmarkable URL in Gmail. You can use it for saving frequent searches, important individual messages, and more.”  Open any Gmail view, such as an individual message or a search, and click Add Quick Link.  The most useful application for Quick Links is with searches.  Add a link for is:unread to quickly view unread messages or has:attachment to find messages with attachments. Quick Links would also be a good way to find message from certain correspondents.

Superstars adds new icons to the default star for marking messages. You get additional stars in new colors, along with a check mark, exclamation point and question mark.  To use, you have to enable on the Settings/Labs page and then choose the stars you want available on the Settings/General page.

Presumably Gmail will keep adding Labs features, which will appear on the settings page.  if any feature messes up your inbox, just go to https://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0 to disable Labs.

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FiOS TV Still Sucks

Posted by Fred on June 5, 2008

I’ve written before of my customer service nightmare with Verizon’s FiOS TV service.  To recap, we were forced to cancel the service when we moved to a house a couple of miles away that was not in the haphazard FiOS rollout area. I returned the equipment to the contractor Verizon sent, and then we started receiving collection notices claiming we owed $600 for unreturned equipment. I thought it had been resolved when all was quiet, but then I received this in the mail (click for a bigger version):

How nice of them to offer to “settle” for 80% of the cost penalty Verizon charges for failure to return the equipment I already returned.  Just in case there is any doubt that I am right and they are wrong, I have a receipt:

Stay away from FiOS at all costs.  The service is fine in my experience (although we did lose it once when their contractor cut the fiber optic cable while working down the street), but it’s like the Hotel California – cancel any time you like, but you’ll never be free.

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Accessing files on a WM6 phone in Ubuntu

Posted by Fred on June 3, 2008

I tried valiantly to get my Ubuntu laptop set up to allow me to transfer files from my Windows Mobile phone to the laptop via SynCE using the instructions on the SynCE wiki. It installed OK (I think) but I never could get it to connect – it kept telling me there was no device connected (caused, I believe, by AT&T removing a settings screen on the Blackjack II and Motorola Q9 Global – stupid AT&T).  Finally I realized that SynCE is completely unnecessary for this purpose.

On the phone, change the USB device type to Mass Storage.  On my device, this is found at Settings >> Connections >> USB Device Type.  Plug in the USB cable, and Nautilus will show you the conents of your memory card.  You’ll have to copy files to the card via the WM file manager, and it won’t work for syncing contacts and appointments, but all I wanted was a file from the phone.  This also works for copying files to the phone.  Sometimes, it’s easy to overthink things.

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Tribe Quick Hits for 6/3/2008

Posted by Fred on June 3, 2008

Still basking in the glow from Casey Blake’s 2 HR, 7 RBI explosion against the Rangers last night, some quick hits in a moment of quiet optimism:

  • Since 1956, a Cleveland hitter has had 7 or more RBI nine times.  Casey Blake now has two of them, the first being July 5, 2003 against Minnesota.
  • This is the fifth game in 2008 in which the Tribe scored 10 runs or more.  They are 5-0 in such games. They’re  4-0 in the game following a 10-run game.
  • This is the eighth game in which the team collected 12 or more hits.  They are 6-2 in those games, and 6-1 in the game following a 12-hit game.  Both of these stats are a bit surprising, as anecdotally it seemed as if offensive explosions were followed by ineptitude.
  • Over the last six games, the Tribe is hitting .267 which, while nothing to crow about, is a far bit better than their season average of .234.  Sizemore is hitting .250, but has an OPS of 1.067.  Casey Blake is hitting .375 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.  Over his last six games (excluding games in which he was only a defensive replacement), Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .368 with an 1.139 OPS.  Jhonny Peralta is hitting .400 with a 1.124 OPS.  Even Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .333 over the past six games in which he had an AB.
  • To win tonight, Cleveland’s going to have to do it again, as Jake Westbrook heads back to the DL.  Usual spot starter Jeremy Sowers is unavailable, having just thrown seven innings in Buffalo.  The start will go to reliever Tom Mastny, who has allowed just one earned run in his last nine innings in Buffalo.  Mastny, however, has never pitched more than three innings with the big club, so he’ll be followed by a series of relievers, including Jensen Lewis, just recalled from Buffalo, where he have up two runs in four innings.  On the plus side, the Rangers starter is also a spot starter – A.J. Murray last started on May 3 against Oakland, yielding 3 runs in 5⅓ innings.

The offense won’t be really turned around without a healthy Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, but things are looking a little better.  Couldn’t be much worse.

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Get Baseball Line Scores on Your Phone via Google

Posted by Fred on June 3, 2008

If you search for Indians score via Google on your mobile phone, you get this:

If you do the same search via google.com, you get search results, but no line score. You can get the score via a PC by using google.com/m. I don’t know what it does if a game is in progress, but for that I like the MLB site better anyway, as it has the pitch-by-pitch updates.

Update: It also works if you just search for Indians.

[via RotoNation]

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Friday Fun: Wellgames

Posted by Fred on May 30, 2008

There’s nothing particularly novel about Flash-based casual games on the web, and there’s nothing particularly novel about online multi-player games. Wellgames does a good job putting the two together, creating fun casual games that you play against total strangers without seeming like Facebook surgically grafted onto the PopCap site. I’ll grant that I’m a misanthrope, but I’d much rather play a game against someone I don’t know than chat with them. Wellgames gives you the former but doesn’t try to force the latter (the way Yahoo and MSN and Shockwave do). Here are two games I like:

Clusterz is a variation on your standard Match 3 game. Shoot a colored ball at some other colored balls and make a match to remove the cluster. Fail to make a group of at least three and a whole bunch more appear, which can sometimes actually work to your advantage. If the balls reach the bottom of the screen, you lose. Get rid of all the balls and you win. This is one game improved by being multiplayer – you’re racing against an opponent and can see how much they’ve cleared on your screen. If you win, you get bonus points based on how many points they had at the time.

Patchworkz plays like a combination Tangram and jigsaw puzzle. Six pieces appear in a tray at the bottom of the screen and you have to figure out where they go in the picture at the top. You get points based on how fast you finish the puzzle. The pictures are pretty in an abstract sort of way. There are a large number of levels, but be aware that between level 60 and level 80, the game gets much harder, as there are hundred of tiny pieces to place (zoom in to at least 150% or get a migraine). After level 81, it gets easier again. This is one that isn’t improved much by being multiplayer – Shockwave has a single-player version.

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Lost Season 4 Finale: Forward and Back Again

Posted by Fred on May 30, 2008

I’ve never really been one to recap the TV I watch – after all, if you wanted to watch it, you would have watched it yourself.  Last night’s season four finale of Lost, however, truly begs for comment.  At times in season three, the show appeared to be wavering, unable to find its feet, lost in the Should We Stick With This Nikki and Paulo Storyline or Kill Them Because the Fans Hate Them shuffle.  Last season’s ratings suffered as well, perhaps as a consequence of deviating from what the show does best.  This season, the producers found their feet again, with the freighter story arc introducing some great new characters (and introducing them in a way that discouraged fan backlash).  Lost may well be the series that suffered the most from the writers’ strike – clearly the writers wanted to do a lot more with Daniel Faraday, Charlotte Lewis and Miles Straume.  With all three presumably present wherever (or is it whenever?) the rest of the survivors who are not part of the Oceanic Six happen to be, next season should be able to explore all the questions last night left unanswered.

This is still not a recap – go read Jeff Jensen at EW, which you really should be doing anyway.  I come not to recap Caesar but to praise him, or something. Here, in no particular order, are the Wow Moments from the finale that were of particular note (needless to say, if you haven’t seen it yet, fire up your DVR or watch it online):

  • Sun’s anguish as she watched the freighter blow up with her husband presumably still aboard was perhaps the single most impressive acting moment in the four seasons. It takes some effort to pull off the wail without veering sharply into melodrama, but Yunjin Kim pulled it off. The difference between that moment and the flash-forward where she confronts Widmore was impressive.
  • Ken Leung had my favorite line delivery of the entire series when Straume retorted to Charlotte Lewis “yes, what do I mean?”  Plus, I really want to know the answer to the question.
  • That John Locke is/was the mysterious Jeremy Bentham is both obvious (the man in the coffin had to be either Ben or Locke) and loaded with symbolism. Locke could have picked any pseudonym he wanted to, and would have been better hidden had he not traded one philosopher’s name for another.  Nothing on the show is without meaning, of course.  Jeremy Bentham was a British philosopher most famous for the Panopticon, a cylindrical prison designed in such a way that a single observer can watch all of the prisoners without the inmates knowing they are being observed, and for the Auto-icon, a wooden display cabinet in which Bentham’s body (with a wax head in place of the original) is displayed to this day at University College London. Both have obvious connections to the show – the Dharma Initiative’s Pearl Station embodies many of Bentham’s principles, although it is not clear whether the Pearl staffers were the observers or the prisoners.  Locke/Bentham is now in his own version of the Auto-Icon, although one presumes he will keep his original head.
  • The real Bentham and Locke were not contemporaries, but Locke’s view of self, that man is born with an empty mind (a tabula rasa), to be shaped by experience, had obvious influence on Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism, with the influence even more apparent in Bentham’s successors, such as John Stuart Mill.  Locke believed that sensations and reflections are the source of all our ideas, deviating sharply from both the Augustinian (man is innately sinful) and Cartesian (man is innately logical) view of self.  At first glance, Lost’s Locke appears to be less Lockean than his counterfoil Jack, but his change of self based on his experiences on the Island is in keeping with the philosophy.  Is the post-season 4 Locke thus a utilitarian?
  • Although Locke, Bentham and Mill are associated with ideals of individual liberty, some modern critics say the utilitarians were really collectivists. Does this presage Locke’s leadership style now that Ben is in a Tunisian desert ten months later?
  • I loved all the ice on a show set in the tropics.  Michael tried to freeze the bomb’s battery, but ultimately ran out of nitrogen, leading to a visit from your favorite harbinger of death, Christian Shephard. Ben somehow made his way from a lab located deep under a tropical greenhouse to a ice-covered chamber containing a frozen donkey wheel.  This may explain the polar bear that showed up on the Island and in Tunisia.
  • What’s with all the ghosts?  Good thing we have a fake/not fake psychic phenomena investigator in Miles.
  • At the same time the narrative was jumping forward (presumably “the present” is now the time of Caveman Jack and Dead Locke, and not the Time To Which The Island Was Moved), the episode itself was replete with allusions to earlier episodes.  Jack rescuing Desmond after the helicopter crash recalled Jack rescuing the middle section survivors in the pilot. The appearance of Penny’s boat was virtually identical to The Others’ tug appearing out of the mist in first cliffhanger.

It’s a sign of a good show that the summer seems like a punishment.  What are Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse going to do know that they have six main characters, a toddler and a corpse on the mainland and all the rest who knows where? Are they going to screw up the wormhole/time travel storyline, rife as it is with paradox? Is Jin dead or alive? Where was Charlotte born? What’s the connection between Widmore and Mr. Paik? How did Walt get so big? What happened to Sawyer’s shirt and is he going to rebound with a rum-sodden Juliet?  I want to know all of these things and I want to know them right now.

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Tribe Homestand (Pale Hose and Rangers) Wrap: Trendspotting

Posted by Fred on May 29, 2008

Question: When is a 2-4 homestand something to cheer about?

Answer: When the homestand features an offense that appeared to be in permanent hibernation.  In the just-wrapped six-game set against Chicago and Texas, the Tribe collected 55 hits and scored 31 runs.  On the preceding road trip to Chicago and Cincinnati, the Indians managed only 37 hits and 13 runs.  As a club, the Tribe hit .248 against Texas and .265 against Chicago, their best performance since an April trip to Kansas City that featured wins of 15-1 and 9-6.

With the exception of the trip to Chicago, the offense has been steadily improving in both batting average and OPS:

 

Individually, many of the Tribe’s regulars swung the bat much better in this homestand.  Six hitters hit better than .275 for the homestand, and seven had an OPS above .750:

Player AVG
Jamey Carroll .385
Andy Marte .333
Victor Martinez .316
Asdrubal Cabrera .308
Ben Francisco .296
Jhonny Peralta .280
Player OPS
Jhonny Peralta 1.013
Jamey Carroll 1.000
Grady Sizemore .955
Ben Francisco .866
Andy Marte .833
David Dellucci .813
Victor Martinez .771

Now if we could only do something abouth the pitching…

Up Next: The Tribe starts a brutal 11-game road trip in Kansas City Friday night.  Cliff Lee (7-1, 1.50) looks to continue his splendid 2008 against Gil Meche (3-7, 5.35).  Lee has been shakier his last two starts, but appeared to find control of his fastball against the Rangers, settling down after a couple of rocky innings.  Meche only gave up two runs his last time out against the Blue Jays, but struggled to throw strikes, needing 115 pitches to get through six innings.  C.C. Sabathia (3-6, 4.74) battles Brett Tomko (2-6, 6.11) on Saturday.  C.C. took yet another hard-luck loss in his last outing, a 2-1 loss in which he gave up one run on five hits in seven innings.  Tomko has a tendency toward the big inning this year, and gave up four runs in the second inning in his last start.  Sunday’s finale features Paul Byrd (2-4, 4.10) and Brian Bannister (4-6, 4.97). Byrd got hit hard by the White Sox his last time out, but managed to limit the damage to three runs, thanks to some timely double plays.

If the Tribe hopes to stay in the AL Central race, they really need to take at least two from the Royals, with Sunday being on paper the hardest one to win.  The White Sox are in Tampa bay to face the Rays, who (somewhat amazingly) sport the best record in the majors at 32-21.
 

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