Mini Blog September 2005
The Mini Blog entries for September 2005
- 30 Sep 2005: Ha! Pathological liars' brains are different from normal people's: a study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry,shows that the more grey matter you have in your brain (as opposed to white matter) the more honest you are. This finding is compatible with similar research into autism: autistic people have more grey matter than non-autistic people, and generally find it much harder to lie. (Grey matter does process information, whereas white matter transmits it.) The group of liars, all known for duplicity and treachery, had between 22 and 26 per cent more of the white stuff than either of the two control groups , presumably composed only of honest people. The researchers stress that the difference could not be accounted for by variations in age, ethnicity, IQ, head injury or substance misuse.
- Hm… how can I find out the colour of my brain, preferably without employing a chainsaw?
- 27 Sep 2005: Just back from a nice weekend in Wales, Brecon Beacons. The original plan was to go to Lyme Regis, fossil-watching, but the pull of the Welsh mountains proved to be too strong. Oh, it's a bleak landscape, it rains too often, the towns up there can be rather depressing (Merthyr Tydfil: sounded so mysterious to my continental ears and turned out to be such a hole) — but for all that I love these mountains and valleys. I must have been a Welsh miner in a previous life. I have put a photo from the summit of the highest point online.
- 22 Sep 2005: Today I checked out del.icio.us. This was on my to-do list for quite a while but there were too many other things in the pipeline. However, in Friday's Economist was an article about tag-based social networks which mentioned the service and I finally decided that if even The Economist writes about it, I have to check it. The idea is simple: with del.icio.us you keep your browser bookmarks online. You can glue as many tags (that's keywords for you and me) to each and any bookmark as you want: this helps with categorising and organising the things. All entries can be sorted and searched based on tags or combinations of tags. So far, so good.
- The real value of doing all this online gets apparent when you realise that lots and lost of other people do the same: del.icio.us is basically a huge database of bookmarks, searchable by tags, dates and other criteria. This is not a replacement of Google et al; rather it's a different way of looking at the web. I have already discovered a few interesting sites I would probably not have found via Google. Thumbs up! (Ah yes: my own (small) collection is at http://del.icio.us/tlauer .)
- 19 Sep 2005: There's still some life left in the cadaver that is the German political system. The voters have dished out a rather strange and interesting conundrum for the politicians. They have also shown the world how the winner of an election, German style, can be its loser, and how the loser suddenly looks like the winner. Another thing this dreadful election campaign has made clear is that Germany is not yet fit for a woman chancellor — I have no doubt at all that a man (almost any man would have done) as the CDU/CSU front would've won this thing. Dreadful.
- As to the actual forming of a government… Ms Merkel will have to act swiftly. If she can't put a reasonable deal on the table in three weeks' time, she can just as well go home. On the other hand, the chancellor, aka Mr Alpha Male, can afford to act like an old spider in its web: he just needs to wait. I am not sure whether we have seen the last of Mr Schr÷der.
- 15 Sep 2005: The Relentless Clickety-clack of Keyboards… can be depressing: the sight and sound of many people, all sitting in their cubicles and all happily clicking away, somehow always makes me melancholy (that's one reason why I could never work in a cube farm). Now researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found a way to put all this clicking to good use (I wonder whether they still smoke dope, in these Californian campuses). Anyway, they have programmed a computer to analyse the sounds users produce while typing on their keyboards: the team has found that each and every key produces its own sound “signature” which of course depends on the actual keyboard used, the surface it's placed upon, the surroundings et cetera. Nevertheless, these signatures are there and the computer, after just ten minutes of training (!), was able to piece together, with an accuracy of 96%, what was actually typed — simply by analysing the sound the keys made and by applying some simple rules of grammar and spelling to the raw data. Given that this was achieved with a cheap off-the-shelf microphone, some quickly hacked-together software, we can expect much more sophisticated keyboard snoopers in the future.
- There is, however, one simple but effective counter-measure: take your MP3 (or CD) player with you (I always knew that these things would turn out to be the saviour of humankind) and listen to some nice music, like the Bee Gees for instance: this completely derails the sound-analysing software. Whether a cube farm with 100s of employees, all equipped with iPods or Zens, and the resulting cacophony of dozens of musical styles, will be any better than the current Clickety-clack remains to be seen.
- 14 Sep 2005: I have discovered a new text editor called PSPad, another nice piece of free (as in beer, not in speech) software . This is one of those applications where you ask yourself how the author can afford to give this away for free. It is an amazingly complete editor (I can kill most new editors in less than two minutes: do they have a column-based selection mode? Do they have full regular expressions (full means Perl 5 compatible)? Do they have a completely reconfigurable keyboard layout? Et cetera: most fall at the third or fourth hurdle and then I go back to my trusty old SciTE and that's it.)
- But this one has it all and does it all. And what's more, it does so much more than what I would expect from an editor. I am really only scratching the surface of this beast and I discover many features that are completely logical but that I have just never seen in a text editor (for instance, the ability to analyse the text and to build a completion wordlist out of it: if I type “defi” and press a key I get a list with all words beginning with “defi” and can complete it: a time saver especially for long or difficult words like definitely). Very definitely recommended.
- 10 Sep 2005: If you want to know what there is to know about “french military victories”… well, type exactly that phrase, including the quotes, into a Google search box (or click here) and check the very first entry returned. The page you get is of course a spoof — but how did the author get his joke so far up the Google ranks? After all, there must be many very good pages dealing with french history around, some even from university departments. Well, Google has a pretty complicated algorithm which sorts pages according to their so-called rank. And one of the things that determine this ranking is the number of secondary pages that link to a found page: the more, the better the page is deemed to be. Common sense, really.
- But remember the first law of computing: any man-made algorithm can (and will) be misused by man. A few determined bloggers can easily change the Google ranking of a page — and more determined bloggers can do more. And truly driven people can achieve amazing results: go to Google, type in the single word “failure” and press the enter key. That's what I got, less than a minute ago:
- And here's the really sorry bit for President Bush: every page on which his name appears together with the word failure (as in this page) reinforces that connection, in a way confirms the page ranking. Which makes it nigh impossible for him to ever get rid of the failure moniker, short of an intervention by Google. (Somehow I suspect that these guys won't intervent in this case.) And the really worrying thing here is probably not the spurious connection between a Prez and the word failure — but the power of Google and the possibilities of abusing its search engine.
- 7 Sep 2005: Something fishy is going on in Oregon. The state is growing a bulge, almost as big as all of Portland (the state capital). It seems to be not unlike a huge pimple, and nobody knows why it's forming. (Well, perhaps California is pushing itself too firmly against Oregonian soil?) However, as this happens near South Sister, a pretty big and pretty active volcano, there's a growing suspicion that a new volcano might be in the making. It could also be a subterranean lake of molten lava that moves upwards. Growth of the pimple began in 1997: it rises at a rate of about 1.4 inches a year (a bit less than 4 cm): this surely doesn't sound very dramatic. But something is definitely afoot, as the area is shaken by many earthquakes, albeit small ones. The phenomenon was first observed from space using an imaging technology known as radar interferometry.
- Perhaps the most astonishing fact of all is that we humble humans (remember: not so long ago we still sat in dark caves and painted the walls) can measure these things at all. Technology can and does drive me crazy sometimes (especially if it's not wireless) but it's also an endless source of amazement.
- 4 Sep 2005: This is a funny one. Dinosaurs are normally depicted as either efficient, lean monsters (think Tyrannosaurus Rex) or as big, bulky mountains of flesh (think Brontosaurus). It seems they were slightly more than that. In fact, they had more in common with… err, chicken. In effect more or less all dinosaur species seemed to have been feathered, some even with multi-coloured plumage (yeah, even the menacing-looking baddies). Says Gareth Dyke, a palaeontologist of University College Dublin: “All the evidence is that they looked more like birds than reptiles. Tyrannosaurs might have resembled giant chicks.” Somehow it seems rather difficult to feel the same sort of fright if the dinosaur before you looks like a big, waddling, rainbow-coloured chicken.
- I have to say that I find this not altogether astonishing. We all know (save a few creationists, of course) that dinosaurs were the evolutionary forerunners of birds, so somewhere along the line they must have develepod feathers and plumage. Apparently they did this for reasons of keeping warm. Flight was an afterthought.
$updated from: Mini Blog September 2005.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:12:47 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$