Windy City

Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 20:38 | Category : Other Stuff
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In Chicago for an Oracle class. Temperature yesterday and today, low 70s. Temperature in Mississippi when I left Sunday, mid-90s. Maybe I’ll just stay here.

Lions and (sabre-tooth) Tigers and Bears, Oh my!

Thursday, 18 August 2005, 10:43 | Category : Environment
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Well, not really sabre-tooth tigers, but they are talking about lions, and cheetahs, and elephants. And considering the reaction of ranchers to the re-introduction of gray wolves, I strongly suspect this won’t get much reaction beyond ridicule.

“Obviously, gaining public acceptance is going to be a huge issue, especially when you talk about reintroducing predators,” said lead author Josh Donlan, of Cornell University. “There are going to have to be some major attitude shifts.”

Ya think???

Car Shopping

Saturday, 13 August 2005, 18:51 | Category : Other Stuff
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Janet woke up today and decided it was time to look for her next car. The plan had been to get her new one next spring, but with the deals being claimed now, and having the money in the bank already, she decided she was ready. We’ve been researching for a while, she was pretty sure what she wanted. She’s been driving a 1997 Honda Accord LX, bought new, that has just turned over 70,000 miles. That will become Kristen’s car. So, we headed out intent on looking at Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords. We also decided to look at a Toyota Prius, just because. So:

Car 1: Toyota Prius – great car, fantastic mileage, very nice to drive. Around $25,000, the one we drove, had some options we didn’t really want. Would have gone to the top of the list, except – legroom for the driver was just too tight. I couldn’t drive it very long. But definitely very cool, everything controlled through an LCD screen.

Car 2: Toyota Camry LE – OK, Camrys are great cars and all, but it was just – plain. Vanilla. I expected chocolate ripple at least. Legroom was fine, headroom for the driver was fine, but headroom in the rear seat was tight. My head was bent over in the back. Around $20,000.

Car 3: Scion xB – OK, Janet wasn’t interested in this one, but I wanted to drive it as long as we were there. The Scion xB is freakin’ fun to drive. Strange looking from the outside, but from the inside – this one had a sunroof, front and rear sears, with shade screens. Big expanse of glass in front, and sides – fantastic visibility. It was almost like being in a convertible, except with no bugs in your teeth and with air conditioning. I loved it – a little tight on legroom for the driver, but not too bad. By the time we got back, Janet loved it. When I go looking in a few months, this one’s on my list. 34 mpg too. Did I mention it was freakin’ fun to drive?

Car 4: Honda Civic Hybrid – this drove more like a regular car than the Prius. Roomier too – much better legroom. Less expensive – around $20,000. The 2005 Civic has about as much interior room as our 1997 Accord. But the air conditioner was a little strange – when you were sitting at idle, it wasn’t blowing cold. Maybe there was some adjustment that needed to be made, because it’s supposed to be running off the battery when you’re idling. But with outside temperature of 95F, it got warm fast. Still, a nice car. Janet began wavering on the Accord thing here, thinking that maybe a Civic would do nicely.

Car 5: Honda Accord LX – larger than our 97 Accord, longer by about a foot. Looks like they used the extra length to give the rear seat passengers more legroom, a nice touch. Very nice drive, felt more refined than the Camry. Chocolate ripple. But the roof protruded down in front so I couldn’t see the stoplight when we were sitting at the light. Very strange, and made me uncomfortable driving it. Nice as the Accord was, it was beginning to trail the Civic at this point. Said we could have it for $19490. A little higher than I expected.

Car 6: Honda Civic EX (non-hybrid) – just to compare to the Hybrid. Nice sled. A/C cooled better than in the hybrid. Civic definitely pulling ahead at this point. Said we could have a Civic LX for $15800.

But! I went back to the Accord and noticed this lever on the side of the driver’s seat. Height adjustment!! Cranked it down, and the visibility was much improved.

Car 7: Honda Element – I just wanted to drive one of these, I thought I’d like them. I didn’t like it. I loved it. Most room of anything we drove today. I love the funkiness and the versatility. Not as good gas mileage as the Scion xB, though – about 10mpg less, in fact, despite both being 4 cylinders. But I loved driving it.

Car 8: Honda Accord LX (different dealer) – drove it to make sure the height adjustment was good. Before we drove it off, salesman said we could have it for $18998. Drove it around, came back. Salesman said, OK, $18698. I had decided ahead of time that $18500 was probably an unrealistically low price, so I might offer that to see what they’d counter with. So Janet and I talked it over briefly, she wanted the car at this point. Salesman said, OK, $18600. I said, OK, as long as nothing gets added except sales tax. Done.

So, that was our Saturday.

Platonic Programming

Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 16:31 | Category : Geek Stuff
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No, this has nothing to do with friends working on shared code. Recently I read a book that, among other things, touched on philosophy, something I hadn’t spent much time reading since college. The book led me to do a little more refresher reading on Greek philosophy, especially Plato and his concept of Forms. At the same time, I’ve been working at refreshing my software development side, something that’s been largely set aside the past several years while I focused on database administration. At the moment, that means lots of reading on Java and object-oriented design. One of the key concepts in Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) is the class. A class is an abstract collection of variable definitions (things) and method definitions (processes). It never actually exists in a program or system, except as a definition. It’s a model. Everything that it can know about or do is contained within the variable and method definitions it contains. So if it never exists, how is it used? Through instantiation. Instantiation is the software process of creating an instance, a real-world entity, from a class definition. The program or system interacts with the instance. The instance doesn’t have to be an exact duplicate of the class; it can add variables or methods, or override variables or methods existing within the class. And other things, which I won’t bother with here. A class can instantiate multiple objects within a program or system. But the program or system only knows about the variables and methods within that instantiated object as long as the object exists, and the object only knows about the system while it exists.

I don’t know if the developers of OOP read Plato, but it is an intriguing question. Plato developed the concept of Forms, which were abstract entities in another plane of existence, perfect and unchanging. What we see in the world around us – people, trees, earth, sky – are only copies of the corresponding Forms. Not exact copies, and not imperfect and unchanging, for the representations of Forms here change. People age, trees lose leaves and drop limbs. But the Form that is represented never changes. We have some knowledge of the perfect Form, which couldn’t have come from anything in our experience in the physical world; Plato explained that by saying our souls, which existed before our bodies, had been acquainted with the Forms on that other plane, and held on to a vague recollection. Sort of the way a program has “knowledge” of the class, through its definition, but only in an indirect way, that has no tangible benefit, until the Form “instantiates” itself into this world. So did Plato’s Forms play a philosophical role in the development of OOP? Object-oriented programming was developed in the early 1960s, by Ivan Sutherland in 1963 according to some, by Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard in 1965 according to others. I have no idea if any of these men ever read Plato, but it’s entirely likely that at some point they encountered his writings at some level. But I’d be willing to bet that Plato would have no problem understanding the concept of object-oriented programming.

President Bush, Science Teacher

Monday, 8 August 2005, 11:55 | Category : Science
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President Bush, having trashed our Federal budget, destroyed our credibility on international affairs, turned environmental protection over to the polluters, and given us the Ethics Lesson known as Karl Rove, now seeks to enlighten the teaching of science. When asked last week whether intelligent design should be taught, Bush said:

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.”

Intelligent design is essentially an attempt by the Christian Right to provide an explanation for how we came to be, other than the “Poof-Bang!” explanation offered by Bishop Usher, who claimed in his 16th century work Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (“Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world”), that the Earth and all life forms were created on the evening preceding October 23, 4004 BC. Why he didn’t just say October 22, 4004 BC is not recorded, but perhaps Creation was accomplished by time zone, and so therefore a relative time reference (“the evening before”) was better than giving an actual time, because then we would have Baptists and Anglicans and Eastern Orthodoxians arguing about whether it was Greenwich Mean Time or Moscow Standard Time or Central Daylight Time. (Would Central Daylight Time even have relevance when daylight had just been created?)

Anyway, the Christian Right now wishes to proclaim that no, maybe the Earth wasn’t created in 4004 BC, but that whenever it was created, the various lifeforms and physical processes we now see came about because God was pushing the buttons and turning the cranks and pouring the plastic into the Great Cosmic Creepy Crawler molds. Actually, they don’t want to proclaim this, they want it taught in science classes right alongside evolution and germ theory and gravitational attraction. But what is it, exactly, that they want taught? I mean, after you teach evolutionary processes as an explanation of how thigns got to where they are now, you could say “and some people believe that behind these processes, behind natural selection and survival of the fittest, there was an intelligent designer”. Because the real proponents of intelligent design don’t take it any further than that. They even allow for the possibility that aliens could have been that intelligence. William Dembski wrote in his book “The Design Inference” that God or an alien life force could be responsible. So, anyway – once the teacher has said that, what exactly is it that you would teach? And let’s not even think about the labs. How you would create an experimental environment for a God-creature is problematical at best.

I’m not anti-religious. I’m a good, Southern, United Methodist boy. But I believe that among the things God created were reason, rationality, and science. Is Intelligent Design nothing more than a belief that God can be partly understood and approached through science? Is that too pantheistic? The problem is that ID has become a religious-social movement based on a way people wish things were. It avoids troubling questions; it avoids having to understand your faith in new ways. It makes things simple, almost as simple as believing that the Earth was created in 4004 BC. But believing that the Creation was 6,000 years ago requires ignoring things that science tells us are fact. Fossils dated back past that point must be explained away as either forgeries, mistakes, or deliberate attempts at deception by some cosmic force. The great sin of Intelligent Design is that it removes the requirement of investigation and understanding from the equation. Things are how they are because God or the gods or aliens made them to be that way, and if you accept that then there’s no reason to explore further. It isn’t understandable past that point.

Kung Fu Monkey has other thoughts on this topic.