Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New To Me: RSVP

MineZone Wiki | Main / RSVPReaderComparison

Years ago, I took a sped riddin' class. I increased my reading speed a bit but found the whole thing unsatisfactory. Along the way, though, one of the exercises had one reading text presented in a column, one or two words at a time. That seemed to work for me.

Since then, sometimes, when I have something long to read that I'd like to get through as quickly as I can, I narrow the window as much as possible. Sometimes I have to copy the text into an editor in order to do so.

The other day I was reading a provocative piece to which my friend The Misanthrope had sent me a link. When I was finished reading it, I thought I'd see what else was on that site. The thing that caught my eye was that a piece of software called Vortex xStream was offered for sale.

Remembering my experience with columnized text, I checked around and decided to buy it since I had not, by that time, found any alternatives. I found code snippets that people had written to do a similar thing, but I'm not good with code snippets and just wanted a program.

I'll have to write to these folks about some deficiencies in their product, but I think I'll keep it. My primary tool for this purpose, though, and assuming I continue reading some things this way, will probably be a free add-on for Firefox called RSVP Reader. RSVP Reader could use a few tweaks, too, but it's pretty close to prime time. It adds a toolbar to Firefox with a few controls and a space to present text. You select what you want RSVPed and push the Play button. Works pretty well.

RSVP, by the way, stands for Rapid Sequential (or Serial) Visual Presentation. Vortex xStream calls itself MARS, for Machine Assisted Reading Software.

Since I started playing with this stuff I found, as usual, that there's nothing new aside from my awareness. There are lots of options. Here's one person's writeup.

In my short experience so far, going through most documents at anywhere from 450 to 600 words per minute is satisfactory. I find myself reading things I would normally pass up simply because of my reading speed and available time. I find that I retain enough to make the exercise worthwhile.

Apparently, researchers have discovered effects such as reduced or confused retention when the reader encounters repeated words. Surely there are other findings, but I'm not sure I'm motivated to dig deeper. In other words, it's a mixed bag. Overall, I'll keep it.

Now maybe I'll finally get around to reading a few books I've downloaded, like Sam Cohen's Shame.

From FAS.org:


Nuclear weaponeer Sam Cohen's memoir "Shame: Confessions of the Father of the Neutron Bomb" is "not a good book in any conventional sense," Secrecy News observed a while back (SN, 01/16/01).

"It is long, whiny, profane, and self-indulgent. It seems to have escaped editing altogether. Part reminiscence, part crank manifesto, it is a mess. But it is an honest and compelling mess that students of nuclear history will not want to miss."

It is now available online here:

Seems that Shame has been renamed F*** You Mr. President.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why Horses?

Take Action: Shut Down Horse Slaughter

No, I don't think so.

Why horses? Why not pigs? Pigs are smart and can make good pets.

Why not cows? They're sacred to more people than there are US citizens.

Why horses? Just because some affluent Americans like them more than they like cattle and pigs?

The Humane Society's role should be to promote the humane treatment of all animals. They should go after operations that allow idiots to play football with live chickens, or those that immobilize animals for extended periods of time for reasons of practicality or product.

They should go after those who cause animal suffering or don't reduce it when they could.

The Humane Society should work to make sure that slaughter operations are as humane as possible. I stop listening, though, when they promote this kind of emotional nonsense.

Update: The Senate and House Bills are all about slaughter for human consumption, which makes the whole thing even more ridiculous. The Humane Society seems to be mixed up. Animal suffering is one thing. Human diet is another. Only one of those is within their purview.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

BBC NEWS | Health | Using drugs as weapons 'unsafe'

BBC NEWS | Health | Using drugs as weapons 'unsafe'

I certainly don't know everything about what happened during the Moscow theater siege several years ago, during which several dozen Chechen fighters took eight hundred or so people hostage. Apparently, in addition to explosives planted at various places throughout the building in such a fashion as to collapse it on the hostages' heads, individuals wearing explosive devices had dispersed among the hostages in order to maximize the killing if the moment came.

Some 130 hostages died (meaning that 600 or more survived) when the Russians gassed the place with a drug of some kind, possibly something called Kolokol-1, supposedly a weaponized variant of Fentanyl.

It seems that many of the dead hostages died as a consequence of the physical position into which they collapsed when gassed, positions that obstructed breathing or caused them to drown in vomit. They were all physically stressed by three days of confinement, discomfort, thirst and so on, which probably also contributed to mortality. There were other contributors to mortality, such as lack of patient care preparations and secrecy about the nature of the gas.

It's certainly no less lethal to die this way than by explosion or gunfire, but there is a difference.

I'm open to argument, but I admire the Russians for what they did at that theater. I'm aware of insinuations that the Russians themselves instigated the event but, frankly, anybody can say anything and I don't know what's true. In any event, such arguments don't bear on the logic or morality of using drugs as weapons.

Weaponized drugs are primarily weapons. If you're in need of weapons, it makes sense to have ones that will work in the situation in which they're needed.

Raising the Moscow theater hostage event in opposition to weaponized drugs strikes me as akin to raising the spectre of Chernobyl in opposition to nuclear energy. It doesn't follow.

What a man!!

That's some pig: Boy, 11, shoots 1,051 pound hog - CNN.com

He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.
His father said that, just to be extra safe, he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast, with 5-inch tusks, decided to charge.

Well, gee, that ought to swell the heads of the rest of the pack at Christian Heritage Academy. This must be just the sort of thing their Jesus would do.

These good Christians deliberately made a poor beast suffer for over three hours when they could have easily done something about it.

Mike Stone is having sausage made from the rest of the animal. "We'll probably get 500 to 700 pounds," he said.
I guess that makes it all OK then. They probably need the food after paying for .50 caliber revolvers, high-powered rifles and the services of hunting guides, not to mention tuition at the small, private, Christian Heritage Academy.

I might be able to respect a hunter who strives for a swift, single shot kill, but toying with an animal the way these good Christians did is nothing but contemptible.

"It feels really good," Jamison said. "It's a good accomplishment. I probably won't ever kill anything else that big."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This is No Way to Win a War by Thomas Snodgrass

This is No Way to Win a War by Thomas Snodgrass:

But the best brake on man's inclinations to resolve differences by war is to insist that when war is the only alternative, it must be fought ruthlessly and with a single minded focus to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war of any kind.
Sure, but the author probably wouldn't agree with me that the best way to eliminate war might be to let everyone have the bomb.

The quote above is, in turn, a quote Mr. Snodgrass takes from an article in the May 2007 Armed Forces Journal entitled A Failure of Generalship, by LTC Paul Yingling. I'll have to go read that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Stayin' Alive: Bubbles

Stayin' Alive: Bubbles:
And that is why, if you have faith, you are most likely wrong.
What he said.

I think it's wise to embrace uncertainty.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What we all know to be true?

Personhood and Planned Parenthood:
what we all know to be true
Make that, "what we all know to be True," with a capital "T". And strike the "all" part. In fact, strike the "know" part, too. Just strike the whole thing.

Jim Sedlak insists that a person exists from the moment of conception. Since that's a capital T, there's no reconciling my contrary view with his.

In the last congress, 100 members of the House of Representatives supported a bill that simply said:

The Congress hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being.

Sound reasonable?

Of course.

No, not "of course". No, not reasonable. Disingenuous.

I eat scrambled eggs for breakfast. Though some of those scrambled eggs may bear the fruit of a rooster, they are not scrambled chickens.

I wonder how many of those right-to-life Representatives would immediately object to the use of their disingenuous bill in opposition to capital punishment? My guess would be most of them.

Mr. Sedlak is apparently a religious man. He doesn't seem to invoke God very much in his writing (he mentions God, mostly in passing, in only four of the 13 articles listed here), but it seems obvious that his world view is rooted in a firm belief in the existence of a supernatural soul implanted by a God at the moment of conception.

In contrast, as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Sedlak's is a highly implausible stance stemming from myth.

Whereas I'm content to let him be, Mr. Sedlak would impose his views on me by force of law. That's part of the reason I'm giving $910 (minus United Way's handling cut) to Planned Parenthood this year.

Ooooo, he probably doesn't know that United Way can serve as a conduit for money to Planned Parenthood. Maybe I'd better shut up lest he make trouble for them, too.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Laptop Schmaptop

When I bought a new laptop several weeks ago, I bought it at Costco for one reason: their return policy. Costco offered a six-month return policy (since then cut to three months), and since I had never owned a laptop before, and since it came with the brand new Vista operating system, the only way I would have bought one of these things was with a long return policy like Costco's.

Now it's going back, not to be replaced.

Several things about the computer lead me to return it. Primary among them is continued incompatibility with iTunes videos. It's hard to know exactly what the problem is, but the effect is that there's no sense in having any iTunes videos on the machine. Up until Apple's most recent update of Quicktime, one could copy the videos from the hard drive to a thumb drive, from which they would play perfectly. Coupled with the machine's having two gig of RAM, a dual core AMD Turion processor and nVidia graphics, this means the problem is not a lack of oomph.

Now that I've gone through several iterations of trying this and that at the suggestion of HP's support people, and with their last suggestion being to restore the machine to factory condition (and failing that, to send it in for hardware repair), I'm packing it up to get my money back.

A few things greatly reduced my confidence in the machine. For example, I understood that it came equipped with an SATA hard drive, but the Device Manager wrongly reported a SCSI drive instead. The support people confirmed it is an SATA hard drive, and dismissed the SCSI part with a comment that it was only a device name. Well, maybe so, but it's not right and it doesn't inspire confidence.

A couple of nights ago I got a sudden blue screen of death. It said that the operating system had been stopped to prevent damage of some sort. When the machine re-booted, I was presented with
Windows Vista license alert

Windows has detected that an unauthorized change was made to your Windows license. This alert appears when a copy of Windows in unlicensed or if Windows activation has been bypassed.
... To purchase Windows Vista now, go to the Windows Vista website.
No thanks.

For the past year or two I've been trying to use online applications rather than having software on my computer. I no longer use an email client, having found webmail acceptable. I resisted the urge to put Office on this laptop, and so far Google and ThinkFree's services seem acceptable. You can do all sorts of things online that used to require on-board applications. I think that's liberating, and it certainly made ditching this laptop an easier decision. Sure you're dependent on the the Internet, but so what? I'm dependent on the interstate highway system, the electricity grid and a whole lot more public infrastructure anyway, so why worry about it?


28 Weeks Later - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

28 Weeks Later - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

My son and I saw 28 Weeks Later last night. We had enjoyed the original (28 Days Later), and since this sequel received good reviews from the New York Times and others it seemed like a good bet.

Naaa... While we didn't walk out, we didn't think this flick was a particularly good use of our entertainment budget.

The movie annoyed me immediately with that detestable, supposedly hand-held camera work that is supposed to add a sense of, what, realism?.

Whatever suspense the movie might have generated was overwhelmed with graphic excess. Spewing blood gets old quickly.

I could go on, but what for? Bottom line: Shrug.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Worthless reports

Why the media, especially reputable media like the BBC, publish reports about worthless, unscientific polls continues to puzzle and annoy me.

Is it that they don't recognize a bad poll when they see it, or that they don't care? I suppose there may be some other reason, some agenda behind publishing such a piece, but I can't think of any legitimate excuse.

Giving uncritical space to unscientific polls is not harmless. Sponsoring them, as CNN and others seem to do all the time, is contemptible even if it does get people to click or call.

... with 50% of respondents saying they had watched the Star Wars films more than 20 times.
... was unavailable to say how many people took part in the survey.

Knowing how many people took part in the survey would not legitimize the poll in any way.

It is clear that this is an unscientific poll, which necessarily means the results are illegitimate. That the BBC puts this story on the front of their web page, even if it is in the entertainment section, is not up to the standards of a legitimate news source.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

iTunes HP Vista nVidia SATA video

I'm starting to get pissed off at the combination of iTunes, HP, Microsoft and nVidia. I'll mention them all because I don't know where to place the blame for an apparently intractable issue involving what seems to be all of them.

To make a long story shorter, among all the compatibility issues involving iTunes and Vista, none has affected me, and the one that does affect me (and others) is never mentioned except among posters in Apple's support forum.

It seems that any iTunes video stored on an SATA hard drive is unplayable on a Vista machine. You can take the same video and put it on a thumb drive and it will play perfectly.

I just wish that Apple would say something about this issue. iTunes users have been posting about it on Apple's forum for some time, with at least one poster claiming that Apple is aware of the problem. It's been a long time, though, and it's annoying that Apple isn't saying anything.

If this problem isn't fixed, I will probably return my laptop before the six month return policy expires. Trouble is, by then I'd be so pissed off at Apple that I wouldn't get a Mac to replace it.

Come on Apple. Say something!!! Keep your customers informed. I can accept that sometimes there are challenging technical issues, but I don't see any justification for the silence.