February 17, 2005

Monroe County Property Maps

Professor Kreft pointed me to a site which replaces the Monroe County platbook, great maps showing who owns which plots of property. You can move around the entire city and county, and see who owns which beautiful house, as well as who lives in your neighborhood.

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January 10, 2005

Hybrid Cars and Misleading Gas Mileage Tests

Truth about Cars, via Clayton Cramer has some interesting things to say about hybrid cars:
Buyers pay a large premium for a hybrid Escape or a Prius, presuming that the increased fuel mileage makes them a better environmental citizen. While there’s no question that the Toyota, Honda and Ford hybrids are more fuel efficient than their conventionally powered equivalents, the difference is nowhere near as great as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers suggest.

Because of the low speeds involved, the city portion of the EPA’s test is accomplished in battery-only mode. As the gasoline engine is off- line for a significant part of the test, the eventual mileage figure is grossly inflated. The test fails to consider the fuel needed to recharge the batteries later on. What’s more, all energy-draining, electrically- powered accessories (including AC) are switched off during both the urban and highway tests. These variables contribute to the huge discrepancy between the EPA’s official numbers and hybrid owners’ real world experience.

Few people realize that a hybrid’s power train adds roughly 10% to the weight of a car. Even fewer realize that manufacturers try to offset the weight penalty-- and add to the hybrid’s headline-grabbing mileage figures-- by the extensive use of non-hybrid gas-saving technology. Engine shut-off at idle, electric power steering, harder and reduced rolling resistance tires (at the expense of comfort and traction), reduced option content, reduced engine performance, and, in the case of the Ford, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) all help raise the cars’ overall efficiency.

Thus, there are three main points: 1. During much of the EPA test, only the batteries are used, but they need to recharged later by burning gasoline. 2. Electrical accessories (including lights, not mentioned in the article) in the hybrid are powered less efficiently by the hybrid battery than by normal batteries (The article doesn't say this outright, and it might be wrong, but if it isn't, the fact that accessories are shut off is no more misleading for the hybrid than for regular cars.) 3. Much of the hybrid's gas mileage is legitimate but achieved by means older than the hybrid engine.

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January 06, 2005

EOM: A Convention for Email, "End of Message"

The Wall Street Journal said December 30 that a custom has started some places of putting EOM at the end of messages to indicate that no reply is needed (though of course you can reply if you see a reason to other than politeness). The convention is confusingly used other ways, as indicated below, but it seems useful
Introduce your workplace to EOM , shorthand for "end of message." Slapping these three letters onto the end of an e-mail message is a signal to the recipient that the exchange is complete and he or she doesn't need to send a reply.

Usage of EOM has evolved. Traditionally, it has been employed on the subject line to indicate that the entire message is contained there, saving the recipient from having to click to open the message only to find nothing in it.

Techtarget.com says
EOM stands for "end of message."

People who exchange a great deal of e-mail sometimes write a very short message in the subject line of an e-mail note and conclude it with: (EOM). This is a little faster to send and saves the receiver from having to take the time to open the note, since the entire message is visible in the subject line. The "(EOM)" is a signal that the message is wholly contained in the subject line.

I think both uses can co-exist. If you see EOM in the subject line, you know not to bother opening the message, which will be blank. If you see EOM at the end of the body of a message, you will have already read the message anyway, and you will know not to send an acknowledgement to the sender.

The EOM convention is good, so I hope blog pass the word on it. EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM

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December 15, 2004

Weblog Comment Problems

My apologies to anybody whose comments do not show up on this weblog or whose comments I seem to have ignored. I just discovered an entry that said "Comments (0)" but nonetheless had a comment. I don't know what is going on with that, but be aware of the possibility of glitches. Also, if you comment on entries older than a week or so, the anti-spam software requires that I approve your comment before it appears, and I might not see that right away.

Social sanctions don't work with spam, since there is no way to show disapproval to the spammer. That makes the case for government laws much stronger.

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Movable Type 3: Pros and Cons

Somebody was asking me about moving from Movable Type 2.6 to Movable Type 3. I think it was worth it, but it took some time, and a number of things still don't work right.

1. Comments are easier to view and delete.
2. There is a good search engine that comes with it.
3. MT-Blacklist, the standard plug-in for dealing with spam comments, has important features that work only with MT 3.

1. I had to re-do my customizations, and didn't get all of them to work.
2. I couldn't get the Upgrade to work, and had to do a completely new installation.
3. Extended entries-- where the reader sees only the first part and clicks fo more-- don't work.
4. For some reason, not all comments get listed where I can see them, and some entries with comments still say "Comments (0)".
5.The Notifierplug-in that lets people know about comment threads doesn't really work with MT 3. 6. Since the new, good, search engine doesn't pick up my pre-movable type entries, I need to have a separate search engine for those.

Overall, I recommend moving, I think. I am spending less time on blogging now, though, which is one reason I haven't fixed up the problems with the new installation. It's probably worthwhile having the MT people do your installation for you, too, or even using Typepad (though then you are at their web address).

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December 13, 2004

Literature Searches: Scholar.google.com

Rick Harbaugh told me about the new Google site, scholar.google.com, which limits searches to academia. It looks to be extremely useful. You can do a search for someone's articles, and it will return not just the articles but also tell you which other articles cite it. Immediately, I have found some papers I ought to have cited for my international trade paper, "A Reputation Model of Quality in North-South Trade." And I found Charles Holt's Markets, Games, and Strategic Behavior: Recipes for Interactive Learning, a book draft of classroom games for teaching game theory that will be useful for me.

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December 04, 2004

The Fourth Day of Christmas: The One-Gig Thumbdrive

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

4. One Gigabyte Sandisk Thumbdrives. They store more than a CD, are more durable, are smaller, and connect faster. $90. They connect via USB ports. From what I hear, these might replace hard disks some day, because they don't have moving parts, and so are faster and less prone to breakdown, as well as being more portable.

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September 15, 2004

Finding the Names of WIndows XP Processes

I have often wondered what junk processes-- things the computer does without your asking-- Windows inflicts on my computer, clogging it up. I've also wondered which processes are legit, when I want to shut down suspect ones. Windows XP does give you a list of processes, but with mysterious names in computerese. But finally I have found my Rosetta Stone. ....

...Right-Click on My Computer. A menu will appear. Choose MANAGE and left click on it. Then Pick SERVICES AND APPLICATIONS. THen pick SERVICES. That will generate a list of processes and whether they have been started or not. Click on the name of one, e.g. PRINT SPOOLER, and a window will pop up with its name in computerese-- C:\WINDOWS\system32\spoolsv.exe. When you hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE and pick TASK MANAGER and Processes, it is that name-- spoolsv-- which shows up as a process that is running.

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August 25, 2004

Thumbdrives-- USB2-Sandisk 1 gig

I just bought the new Sandisk 1 -gigabyte USB 2.0 thumbdrive for about $200.

This is a device about the size of a thumb which stores 1 gigabyte of data, transferring it quicker than a CD via a USB 2.0 port. The USB 2.0 ports tout how fast they are compared to USB 1, and I find that the difference is worth it for thumbdrives (I'm not sure about for printers, mouses, etc. ). I've replace my old USB 1 hub at the office with a USB 2 hub.

This devise will probably make my Christmas List this year.

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August 08, 2004

Technical Retrogression: Bathtub Plugs and Medicine Cabinets

Bathtub plugs. The best technology I have ever seen is a rubber plug connected by a chain to the faucet. The rubber plugs the hole very nicely, it is easy to set the plug, it is easy to unplug, and you can unplug without getting your hand wet (useful if it is a child taking the bath, for example, so your hand is not already wet, or if you are cleaning something in the bathtub). New houses seems to have inferior technologies-- metal-rubber combinations that need to be screwed in and out, get clogged with gook, don't always work properly, and break down eventually.

Medicine cabinets. My new 21st century house didn't have any, and when I remarked on this to the real estate agent, she said it was now standard to have lots of mirrors and drawers instead. The medicine cabinet combines those two things, saving space, and is superior to both. It makes for a better mirror, because it can either be left flat, or swung out to allow for side views (and back views if you have multiple mirrors). It makes for a better storage space for not one but two hugely important reasons (well, hugely important on the scale of home storage, admittedly a bit lower than world peace or your eternal salvation). The first is that children can't reach a medicine cabinet, unlike a drawer. The second is that a cabinet is better than a drawer for displaying the labels of many objects simultaneously. And now that I think of it, there is a third reason-- you can look straight into a cabinet instead of peering down into a drawer. And a fourth reason---one inspires the next-- which is that medicine cabinets can be very large, since to open them requires only the swinging of the door, whereas the bigger the drawer, the harder it is to open, since the weight of all the contents must be swung out. And fifth reason-- opening a medicine cabinet does not require you to shift your position, whereas opening a drawer often requires you to move because you are standing in front of it.

Why has bathroom design regressed in these two dimensions? I don't know.

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July 15, 2004

Electronic Books

Why don's we have the simple technology needed for electronic books? What is needed seems rather simple, technologically:

We need a small hinged screen that looks just like a conventional book, with a slot into which the user can insert a small memory RAM card (say, 8M) containing plain ascii texts. The device would have software that would divide the text up into pages. When you reach the end of page 1, you would hit a button at the bottom right-hand corner that would refresh the left screen with page 3 while you are reading on page 2. When you get to the end of page 2, you'd hit a button that would refresh the right screen with page 4. On the cover would be other dedicated buttons that would allow you to go directly to any page number of your choice (you'd hold it down a page numbers would whiz past until you got to the one you wanted). There would be no ON/OFF button-- that would be one just by opening and closing the book, with a timer to turn off automatically if you forget. It would run on two AA batteries, or, if that isn't enough power, plug into a wall outlet for recharging.

Notice that in all respects this is as close to a conventional book as possible. The conventional book is a great design. All it lacks is the ability to add new texts to a given shell, so that currently if you want to take 20 books on vacation or into your hammock you've got too big a pile to carry.

In contrast, the WSJ ($) today tells us of a rather pitiful couple of new electronic readers:

Now the world's two biggest consumer-electronics companies -- Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial, the maker of Panasonic devices -- are giving the digital book a whirl in Japan, though not yet anywhere else.

Both recently started selling electronic readers that let users view a variety of material downloaded from Internet sites. But despite some attractive services and compelling technology, a week of testing the Sony Librie and Panasonic SigmaBook reminded me how great paper still is.


Part of the problem is that the Librie display's response is excruciatingly slow. "Turning" a page takes a full second, and using the jog wheel to move the cursor through menus is frustrating. It's still tolerable if you're chugging through a story from start to finish, but returning to a section you've read before is a real slog unless you've had the foresight to "bookmark" the page you want.

Where the Librie really fails is in its handling of digital content. It can only view content that comes from a site run by Publishing Link, a Sony-affiliated company with investments from most of Japan's big publishers. Users download digital books to their computers from there and then transfer them to the Librie, ...

The article shows a picture of something like a tablet PC, with a zillion buttons and a single screen. Surely the geeks of Akibahara can do better than that. I suppose the problem is that they don't actually ever read books,having acquired a mistrust for them from their extensive experience with the uselessness and deception of computer manuals. Thus, they are trying to make a small computer for reading rather than trying to imitate the classic book design.

This is part of a general failing of technology geeks: the failure to realize that the best innovation is one which looks and feels almost exactly like old- fashioned technology to the user, so there is practically no learning cost and no risk in buying it. We saw this with PC's: computer people didn't realize that they were successful mainly because most people wanted to buy a glorified typewriter. We saw it with email too: that is successful because it is almost the same as writing a letter. The best technology is the technology that is invisible.

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