Friday, July 28, 2006

Google Maps Bizarrity


Google Maps has a weird bug (feature?) in the way it chooses which cities/towns to label at different length scales.

Try this link. It should center around Albany, NY, with the "one grid = 100km" scale.

In New York State: no Buffalo, but yes Boston, Newfane, and Royalton (in a font the same size as Toronto!). I'd never heard of Royalton or Newfane, NY. (Newfane, VT, yes -- we got our marriage license in Newfane, VT.) No Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, or Albany.

In Massachusetts: no Worcestor, but yes to Belchertown. On the Cape, Wellfleet and Truro, but no Provincetown.

In Rhode Island: no Providence. That's basically the entire state!

Totally crazy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bérubé steals my post again

Go read this post, and pretend I wrote it.

Okay, don't pretend I wrote it, but let me bask in reflected glory.

I'm now fully convinced that had Al Gore picked someone else (maybe Russ Feingold) as his running mate in 2000, we might not be in this horrible mess.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How Air Conditioners (Don't) Work

Every year in the hot weather, I have a conversation with my wife that goes something like this:

  • Me: Dear, could you not set the AC units so low when none of us are in the room? It wastes energy.
  • She: But it's hot, and I want it to cool down quickly.
  • Me: Yes, dear, I know, but turning down the temperature set point doesn't make it cool off any faster.
  • She: Well, it should.

The vast majority (if not all) of air conditioners (and refrigerators, dehumidifiers, etc.) have two settings: a fan setting and a temperature setpoint. The fan setting just controls how hard it blows. The temperature setpoint does not control the temperature of the air the unit puts out. Instead, it controls when the system goes from full run mode to idling mode.

AC units push out only one temperature of cold air: cold. They work until their temperature sensor shows a temperature lower than their setpoint, and then they go idle (although their fans may continue to blow). When the temperature at the sensor rises above the setpoint again, it turns the system back on.

Turning the setpoint down very low will not make the room cool down any faster; it will simply make the AC unit work longer and not go idle as soon.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Why I Think Lewis Black is Brilliant

From "Red, White, and Screwed", Lewis Black's recent HBO special:

I never thought that during the course of my life that a President would be elected who didn't believe in evolution. Or at least, kind of in the ballpark of it, or thought, "Maybe it's got some merit!"

But no! He believes that the earth was created in seven days.

Hoo! Takes my breath away.

And why does he believe that? Because he read it -- in the Old Testament. Which is the book of my people. The Jewish People.

And that book...wasn't good enough...for you Christians....

(laughter and applause)

...was it?

You went "No, we've got a better book, with a better character, you're gonna love him!"

And you called your book "New", and said our book was "Old".

And yet every Sunday, I turn on the television set, and there's a priest, or a pastor, reading from my book. And interpreting it. And their interpretations, I have to tell you, are usually wrong.

And it's not their fault, because it's not their book!

You never see a rabbi on TV interpretring the New Testament, do you?

NPR: Lame, or Shilling for the Powerful?

I was listening to NPR while driving over the past few days, and I heard them use two phrases that made me realize just how little analysis they put into their phrasing -- or how much they're sucking up to the powerful (which is worse?).

The first, which I have to paraphrase since I didn't write it down yesterday, was their "headline" in response to the Supreme Court Decision against military tribunals: "President Bush will turn to Congress for the authority to deal with terror suspects".

Think about this for a moment. It sounds so reasonable on the surface, but if you unpack it, it's easy to see that this is basically a Karl Rove talking point. Implicit in the summary is the idea that the Administration's hands are tied; that the US Military and the Justice Department are totally incompetent to prosecute suspected terrorists; that 219 years of U.S. law under the Constitution (and several hundred years of English Common Law before that), plus the Uniform Code of Military Justice (plus those "quaint" Geneva Conventions) have nothing useful to say about prosecuting people who are accused (oh wait, no, there are no actual accusations -- these men are not so much accused as insinuated at) of conspiring to attack the United States, or who were prisoners captured in a conflict with the US armed forces.

The second phrase I heard today; it was regarding NASA deciding whether or not it would launch the space shuttle Discovery. The person reading the news said something like "Some inside NASA say that foam from the fuel tank could pose a risk to the shuttle....".

Some inside NASA? Like, the engineers?! But what really made my eyes bug out is the idiocy of the "could pose a risk" phrase. This is so meta it makes my teeth hurt. Something can "pose a danger", or it could "be a risk", but "could pose a risk"? That's saying "it might be might be dangerous".

Okay, I'm probably playing Militant Grammarian of Massachusetts too much here, but I really do think that that phrase has serious overtones that Orwell would recognize in an instant -- bluntly put, it's a way of downplaying whistleblower critiques of decisions made on political grounds. Not is a problem, not could be a problem -- but might could be a problem.


Shame on you, NPR.

(What was that about a Liberal Media again?)

Why I Read Online Comics

Because sometimes there are gems like Ozy and Millie, which had this brilliant strip last week.