Thursday, February 23, 2006

 

Web Site Dynamics Advice

A young entrepreneur asked me for some advice on web site design, tools and technology, and hosting, a couple of days ago. It started with "are there open source tools for writing a Flash site?" I don't know of any, but I've not looked for any: I don't feel the need to write a Flash site. As it happens, I encountered a couple of Flash sites this morning, with very different user experiences; if one knows what they are doing, Flash can be very useful, but if one doesn't it can be obnoxious.

First, the good site. A company has developed a Flash toolkit for trade fair visit planning (at tfmap.net). I was presented a floorplan of a large trade fair, with an interactive panel for finding the stands of interest to me (by name or by category), information (in pop-up) about each stand, and the option to add the stand to my visit. When I have finished my list, it produced a pdf file (to save, print or both) with my stands highlighted, the stand name listed, and information on hours, registration, and access.

Now, the less liked site. A link to information about a concert venue opened a new window in which, below the picture, it wrote that I needed Flash to visit this site, and provided a link to download Flash. Since I had just finished preparing my trade fair visit with Flash, this seemed wrong to me. I tried to proceed: I clicked on the little arrow under the picture, since the cursor turned into a hand when over it indicating a link or button of some sort. The good news--it reacted. The bad news--yuck, it tried to open a pop-up window and Firefox blocked it. I told Firefox to go ahead and show me the content intended for the pop-up. By default, the music began; I did eventually notice I could turn it off, or choose among jazz, funk, and rock. Overall, the Flash is well done, the visit navigation is clear and friendly. I just dislike pop-ups, music on by default (no warning, even!), and being told to install software I already have.

Another concert venue had a much cleaner site which I liked, although I don't understand the Swiss text (no French or English version seems to be available): Kreuz Nidau. What's good:
About the only thing that I think could be improved (other than translation) is replacing the use of images for the menu and submenu labels (slightly more data to load), rather than doing it with styles; but, I haven't tried nor succeeded in producing the same experience without images.

Another site I like is knowgravity, another Swiss design. Could do better:

One more Swiss site design I liked is Esther Brunner's, developed with Dokuwiki, a php flatfile (i.e. no need for MySQL, etc.) wiki. She develops plug-ins for Dokuwiki, too, and has a very good mastery of it. Her left-side-menubar is not part of the standard Dokuwiki distribution, but I wish it were (at least as an option). Overall, this site is a very good example of what one can do with *just* php.

Speaking of *just* php and flatfile content storage, consider too GuppY. At first, it does look pretty *busy*. The banner ad at the top, the dynamic smiley...They claim that you don't need to know html, php, or sql. When I tried it a year or two ago, that was not quite true: I had to rewrite a fair amount of php because I got a lot of error messages and warnings (no, I don't want to just turn them off, I want to run correct code). It does, compared to most wikis, have more versatile content presentation; you can use the "forum" as a blog, for instance. You can remove (easily, as I recall) any boxes you don't want (left and right columns). Nevertheless, I would not recommend it over Dokuwiki, and certainly not before checking that its code has improved.



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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

 

Next Quiz: Political

I (re-)took the "Worlds Smallest Political Quiz" (very slow to load BTW) and confirmed that I score "Liberal".

Your PERSONAL issues Score is 80%.
Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 30%.
LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal

matters, but tend to support significant government control of the

economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net"
to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation

of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations,

defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action

to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

Yes, that's me.

Click to ask them for the map of my score.

This quiz has been taken 5,562,359 times.

How People Have Scored


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Brain Wiring Quiz

Checking through old bookmarks (to see what no longer worked, and what of importance I have forgotten) I redid this one
This quiz is based on one in the book "Why Women Can't Read Maps and Men Don't Listen" by Allan and Barbara Pease (ISBN 0-6463-4907-4).


Like Holiday Inn used to say, the "best surprise is no surprise."


Results

Your basic score was 140 from a range generally between 0 and 300

Masculine Brain

You demonstrate moderate logical, analytical and verbal skills. You will tend to be disciplined and organised in many areas of your life.

You are likely to be good at projecting costs and planning outcomes, being only slightly influenced by emotional considerations



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Monday, February 20, 2006

 

Francis Fukuyama made some sense!

This morning, someone called my attention to Francis Fukuyama's opinion piece "After Neoconservatism" in yesterday's New York Times. I do not consider myself a Fukuyama fan. Not too many years ago, I would have gone out of my way to not read Fukuyama: I so completely disagreed with him that it infuriated me so see him published and read. I don't think I quite agree with him (nor he with me) yet; but he has good arguments against the war in Irak, and those I am glad to see published and read.

The essay is too long (six pages) and too well expressed for me to try to summarize it here. The highlights were, for me, these two paragraphs on pages 3/4:
I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.
Skip to end:
Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

Fukuyama is not the first or only one to note that installing democracy can be problematic. Democracy is not by any means the "natural" or "default" condition in the same sense that "health" is the absence of disease, obtained by curing the state of its tyrant infection. People develop in a hierarchical setting (the family) first, generally work in a hierarchichal setting (when did you last elect your boss, or her boss?); people understand pecking order. Perhaps riots and mob lynchings are the most spontaneous democratic instincts, the "democratic" behaviours that do not have to be learned.


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The USA's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review

Maybe I'll better appreciate the ramifications after I've read the QDR and the National Military Strategy for the War on Terror, but for now I am very puzzled by the reactions to the QDR, and particularly by the lack thereof. The editor at the Defense Industry Daily, too, has noticed the roaring silence.

Editor's Note

JK: I strove for greater diversity of opinion in this article, but it has been difficult. Neither the liberal Brookings Foundation nor the New America Foundation had publications covering the QDR at the time this article was run, for instance (a situation that remains unchanged as of February 10, 2006), and they were not unique. This results in a conservative/libertarian weighting to the responses. I also looked for articles that were positive as well as critical, in order to provide a range of perspectives. Unfortunately, that proved something of a Diogenesian search - the 2006 QDR's early "buzz meter" is distinctly unfavourable, even among entities usually supportive of the military.


The mainstream American media seem to have covered it spread in dribs and drabs over two weeks, with no two published the same day. Their coverage looks more like book reviews than news analyses, picking out a few highlights.
The highlights include continued budget growth, no programs cancelled, no growth in headcount, growth in special operations force headcount.

Several days later, on 15 February, The Guardian published "America's Long War" by Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill. This was the first which really grabbed my attention. It began
The message from General Peter Pace, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, was apocalyptic. "We are at a critical time in the history of this great country and find ourselves challenged in ways we did not expect. We face a ruthless enemy intent on destroying our way of life and an uncertain future."

Why does that remind me of Walt Kelly's "we have met the enemy and he is us!"? Maybe the same reason I sometimes wonder whether the only thing George W. Bush learned from the Viet Nam war was "we destroyed the village in order to save it."? My list of ruthless enemies intent on destroying our way of life would include
  1. Everybody denying, ignoring, and generally postponing dealing with global warming.
  2. Bush and Cheney, for taking all the fun out of talking on the phone, and destroying our faith that Big Brother is not listening.
  3. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the U.S. Congress who, with Gitmo and the AUMF, destroyed our confidence that Americans believe and always apply "innocent until proven guilty".
  4. Genetic technology companies, for ignoring the lessons of kudzu, African bees, rabbits in Australia, poisonous frogs in Australia, snakehead fish, tumbleweed, and so on, working to replace natural organisms by patented ones on as large and profitable a scale as possible.
  5. AIDS (if we can admit this enemy despite its debatable ability to have "intent").
  6. High-tech fishing boats, which are doing to the fish in the sea what Americans did to buffalo (and the Dutch to the dodo-bird), and destroying our
  7. The automobile industry, both for its contribution to distorting our idea of our way of life to comprise personal vehicles and for its aiding and abetting our depletion of the non-renewable petroleum resource.
This list is neither complete nor in order of priority, I just wanted to mention some of the enemies I peruceive to be intent on destroying my way of life.


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

 

Attitudes, Good and Bad

I read in a signature of a listserver post :
"An optimist is someone who thinks
'It doesn't get any better than this.'
A pessimist is someone who's afraid that's true."

Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil's Dictionary, noted
OPTIMIST, n.
A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.

and
OPTIMISM, n.
The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof -- an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.


I think both these authors are mistaken; they consider only the current state, with statics, not with possible outcomes or dynamics. As wikitionary notes (in definition 1), optimism is "a tendency to expect the best, or at least, a favourable outcome". The classic "optimist sees the glass half full, pessimist sees the glass half empty" is misleading for the same reason. Optimism is not about what is, but about what can and shall be.

Another characterisation is perhaps more useful: an optimist can be disappointed by the outcome of events, but a pessimist can only be pleasantly surprised (unless, of course, her attitude is so poor as to consider a favorable outcome disappointing!).

I realised after writing about "Cat Trouble" that, by this last criterion, I was optimistic. There wasn't much news the vet could give me that wouldn't disappoint. I assumed that the prognosis would continue to improve. I'm disappointed, but still hopeful.



This reminds me of the difference between the engineer and the mathematician. Each is presented with a sexually desirable person in the opposite corner of a room, with the rule "each time the bell rings, you may advance only half the remaining distance toward the object of your desire."

The mathematician doesn't move from her corner. She knows that she will never arrive all the way.

The engineer does move. She, like the mathematician, knows she'll never arrive, but figures she'll come close enough for a good approximation.


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Monday, February 13, 2006

 

Cat Trouble


My second cat arrived in November. I was a bit anxious, as my first cat is a year-old male, and the second is a male, too. I was assured that the second had been examined by a veterinarian and had had an orchidectomy (was orchidectomied, or is it orchidectomized?); quasi-peaceful cohabitation seemed a realistic goal under those circumstances, although not guaranteed success.

For the most part, the cohabitation has been peaceful. Although they rarely seek each other's company, and only occasionally dine at the same time, they do go out together to watch each other hunt (I suppose). They take turns. "A" goes out at night and sleeps all day (normal cat schedule); "B" goes out in the morning, and comes in to nap at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. When one is on my lap or sleeping next to me, the other goes off to sleep somewhere else; well, most of the time, anyway-- "B" has jumped onto my lap when "A" was sleeping there, but fortunately I caught him and tossed him away before serious fighting ensued. They each have their preferred napping places; however, I've noticed lately that "A" has taken to squatting "B"'s sites (but not vice versa): domination tactics. "A" may creep up to sniff "B"'s tail while "B" is eating. From time to time, "A" chases "B" out of the house (and once drew blood from his ear); when that happens, I let "B" sleep in a closed room (like my bedroom) and hold and pet him in front of "A" and "A" seems to realize that I want "B" to live here, too.

When I came in Friday evening, "A" came to greet me at the door (usual, when he is in the house). After half an hour, I still hadn't seen "B". Then, he staggered out of the travel cage--a place I had never known him to go. He was dirty and smelly; his right rear leg and tail were soiled with feces, urine, and possibly blood. We (my younger daughter and I) tried to wash him and noticed he was bleeding; we called our vet and took "B" to get emergency care.

The vet quickly dispelled the hypothesis that "B" was wounded fighting. (He also dispelled the belief that "B" is a choir-kitten; it would be his youth and his submissiveness, not a total lack of testosterone, that have mitigated conflict). "B" had blood in his urine (hematuria), and quite a lot of urine. Diagnosis: either a bad urinary infection, possibly with calculi, or internal injuries due to a blow. Treatment: I. V., antibiotic, analgesics. Or, he might have eaten some anti-coagulant rodent poison: give him vitamin K, too.

Yesterday I tried to understand "B"'s hematology report, which the vet had produced on Saturday.
  1. His white cell count is high, but in the normal range; the proportion of neutrophil granulocytes is rather high.This does not look to me like a "bad infection", more like he was hit in the gut.
  2. His ALT is very high; this indicates liver damage (not muscular damage, since his creatinine is not high). Might the liver have also been damaged by a blow to the gut?
  3. Platelet count is mid-range, but mean platelet volume is very high: what does this mean? I could not find a good explanation on the Internet.
  4. Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is lower than normal.
    Causes for decreased plasma urea levels are low protein diet, anabolic steroids (diverting proteins from
    catabolism to tissue formation), liver failure, porto-systemic shunt, diabetes insipidus, psychogenic polydipsia and
    primary hyperammonemia.
  5. Mustn't forget the hematuria...
    1. Chronic irritation from crystals that form when the pH is out of normal range and the urine becomes relatively concentrated.
    2. Uroliths or bladder stones can form as the result of FUS or chronic infection.
    3. Bacterial infections can occur as the result of trauma, poor hygiene or spontaneously and is treated with antibiotics.
    4. Idiopathic cystitis can occur which has no known cause and is usually self-limiting. This is a diagnosis that we “back in to “ by eliminating the other causes of hematuria.
    Source: Hematuria

I know he crosses the street (and his white fur often has traces of axle grease from crawling under parked cars). Yet, he does not seem to have broken bones, not even ribs. Perhaps "A" chased him and "B" leapt from the upstairs landing onto the stairs, bruising his gut on the edge of a step? If only he could talk! And I'd like to know how "A" lost a small chunk of his lip the same day. Now, back to waiting for the vet to call with news.

Sources: ]

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

 

No Fear?


It is probably wrong to profess any sort of respect or admiration for vandals. But somehow, I who both fear heights and fear being caught if I were ever to break a law, find awesome the work of some taggers in Lille:




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Getting there from here

To travel from Haguenau to Lille, one can drive. According to the itinerary engine at viamichelin.fr:


One should then add parking fees for the time one stays in Lille, say three days (72 hours) at 1.20 EUR/hour-- 86.40 EUR. The total cash cost (not counting vehicle wear) thus approaches 120 EUR. Car parks cost nearly as much as a budget hotel room, yet the car doesn't get to use the bathroom, have clean sheets and TV to watch, nor even have a closed and locked door to guarantee it privacy.

An alternative is to take the train. For an adult without any special discounts:

While the total travel time is significantly greater by train, the time one isn't sitting comfortably reading or napping is much less than the time one would have spent in the driver's seat: less than two hours spent carrying luggage or waiting in an uncomfortable station. In other words, if one likes to sit and read and nap anyway, one only loses two hours travelling by rail, versus over five hours driving.

Were three people travelling rather than just one, six people-hours would be lost making connections, and the cash cost would be 228 EUR, well over the 127 EUR by car, making driving preferable on both criteria. With two travelers, connections cost four people-hours, and tickets cost 152 EUR; a person-hour is saved at a cash cost of 25 EUR.

This is a multi-objective or multi-criteria decision. For three travelers, driving dominates train on both criteria (time wasted and cash outlay), whereas for a single traveler train dominates rail (unless there are other criteria, such as total travel time, or avoiding spending time in chilly stations and carrying luggage).

At the ROADEF congress in Lille last week, nine papers considering aspects of such problems were presented.

Driving, there is the risk of an accident, and of vehicle break-down, not to mention slow and dangerous roads at this time of year (snow and ice). In the train, there is the risk of missing connections if one train is delayed. Last Sunday, the Strasbourg-Paris train was 45 minutes late due to a suicide attempt on its track near Chalons-en-Champagne. The total travel time increased by one hour, and one had no reserved seat on the Paris-Lille leg. End of ramble.


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