11 December 2011

Dude, where's my diss? ''

Part III, in which I produce the document

In the second installment of this multi-post topic, I ended wondering where I might store copies of my dissertation for public download. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me to use the Box account that I have. (Box is like DropBox.) Since I have now figured this out, I present below two pdf versions. This first is to a copy of the UMI version which is, as I wrote before, essentially a photocopy of the original paper version I submitted to them back in 1998. The second pdf is a searchable version I recently created. That wasn't as easy as it sounds.

It's true that it's a trivial matter to create a pdf these days. On my Mac, I can just print directly to pdf, and this was my first approach. The problem is that the latest version of Microsoft Word renders the text slightly differently from the way version 5.1a (of blessed memory) did it. As a result the page numbering got way off. (I will refrain from the obvious rant about the problems this version issue causes.) The first remedy I tried was tweaking the margins a bit, thinking that the fonts (mainly Times) were being rendered at a consistently different width. No dice. In some cases lines were longer, in other shorter. I haven't a clue why. OK, I think, so I'll just fire up version 5.1a. Well, that requires at least Classic, which doesn't run on Intel Macs anymore. No problem, SheepSaver emulates such a machine, even on my nifty new MacBook Pro. First new problem: OS 9 doesn't allow such easy printing to pdf. Solved with PrintToPDF, which creates a virtual Chooser (remember that?) printer that really sends output to a pdf file. Great. The second problem wasn't new nor was it so easily solved.

Word 5.1a does a better job than the 2011 version at reproducing the layout of my original document, but not a perfect one. For some reason it was just not matching up and once again it wasn't a simple matter of adjusting margins. So here's what I did. I figured that the smallest unit of text I had to worry about was the page, and many of them were the same, that is, they started and ended on the same word as my original dissertation printout. Some of the intervening lines look different, but since no one was going to be citing my dissertation that way, it would be OK. Where the pages didn't line up, I went in and inserted extra spaces to force line breaks, with the occasional tweak to margins, mainly in indented quotations. That got the pages right, and let my virtual 1998 Mac create a searchable pdf.

The only remaining problem with the pdf is that the text in ancient Greek is not real text. Back in the 90s we still weren't using Unicode everywhere, so the ancient Greek is really just regular Latin character codes shown in a font that uses Greek glyphs instead of Latin ones. (In reality lots of the accented Greek characters are punctuation of some kind.) The pdf displays the font fine, but it really isn't Greek text that you can copy or search for.

Here are the links. Again, they lead to my Box account, which I haven't upgraded to allow direct downloads, so you'll have to do something else to get the pdf itself:

What I'd really like to do is make the dissertation available as an e-book of some kind. The problem remains the Greek and the page breaks. The Greek isn't a big deal, even if I had to type it all out agin (which I don't); there's not a lot of it. Also it's not difficult to turn a pdf into one of the popular e-book formats, but my footnotes mean I can't do that without some work. Ideally I'd start from the Word doc, so a little research is needed to see what the options are.

Meanwhile...where's your diss?

01 November 2011

"'Crisis' in Classics" briefly revisited

Back before Who killed Homer?, John Heath wrote a somewhat contentious article for Classical World (John Heath et al., “Self-Promotion and the ‘Crisis’ In Classics [with responses],” CW 89, no. 1 (1995): 3-52) in which he argued, among other things, that the significant great divide in the profession was between those elite who work at large schools and the others who work at small. In support of the argument Heath noted differing participation rates in professional organizations, which he attributed to the ability of people at larger, more resource-rich places to volunteer for such work, knowing that their institutions would provide the needed back-up. As someone working at a small, resource-poor university, I was sympathetic to that argument, though several of the respondents to his article were not.

Being a data-based kind of guy, it seems to me that this is a testable hypothesis. If the participation rates in professional organizations present the kind of skew towards larger institutions (universities) that Heath describes, that's evidence in favor of his proposition. A recent announcement of the latest officers of the major professional organization for Classicists, the American Philological Association (one of many APAs) provides one relevant data set:

President-Elect: Denis Feeney (Princeton U)
Vice President, Outreach: Mary-Kay Gamel (UCSC)
Vice President, Publications: Michael Gagarin (UTAustin)
Board of Directors: Sara Forsdyke (UMich) and Matthew Roller (Johns Hopkins U)
Nominating Committee: Donald J. Mastronarde (UCBerkeley) and Ruth Scodel (UMich)
Education Committee Member: Mary C. English (Montclair State U)
Goodwin Award Committee: Peter T. Struck (UPenn)
Professional Matters Comm. Members: Lillian Doherty (UMD) and Barbara K. Gold (Hamilton College)
Program Committee: Member Christopher A. Faraone (UChicago)
Publications Committee Member: Andrew M. Riggsby (UTAustin)

By my count, that's 12 of 13 from universities, including two from each of two places (one of which, for the record, is my doctoral alma mater in Ann Arbor), and 9 of the 10 universities have graduate programs in Classics.

I did a count a few years ago of Classics faculty by the highest degree offered at their institution. It was based on the 2002-2003 APA departmental survey data. Here's a graphical representation. You'll see that faculty at BA-offering institutions make up half of the total, with those at institutions without even a Classics major accounting for another 8%. That total of 58% is a far cry from the 15.4% (2/13) rate seen in the election results.

Lest one think this an unusual year, holders of these same offices in 2011 were employed by BU, UMD, Georgetown U, UChicago, UCLA, Stanford U, U South Carolina, Reed College, Columbia U, Duke, UPenn,* UPenn, and Brown U, respectively. That's one college out of 13 positions, two from one university,* and again two from places without graduate programs.

Of course not all universities are the same (I teach at one, for example, though it's very much a small liberal-arts college attached to a theological school), and different faculty have different workloads, but the universities in the lists above are large and in most cases wealthy institutions. Add to that the information about graduate programs, I'd say this makes a reasonable prima facie case in support of Heath's position.

* I had to cheat a bit with one of the committee memberships because they were two members elected for 2012, but only one for 2011, so I went back a grabbed the previously elected member.

16 October 2011

Dude, where's my diss? '

Part II, in which I wonder about my copyright

As noted last time, I clearly assert my ownership of copyright on the title page of my dissertation. However UMI also asserts a copyright:
UMI Microform 9840610 Copyright 1998, by UMI Company, All rights reserved. This microform edition is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
Honestly I don't know what this means. Sounds like they might claim a copyright on the particular microform instantiation of my dissertation, that is, the microfilm, though given the appearance of this text on a pdf, I suspect they may also be claiming a copyright on that particular pdf as well.
Let's see what their website reveals. Off to the support pages and I find this as the second item on a search for "copyright":
No, you do not have to copyright your work unless your school requires you to do so.
Well, mine did, so that seems to rule me out. Since I don't see any other obvious choices, I guess I'll e-mail support and see what they say. Here's my question:
My dissertation cays that I have the copyright, per my university's instructions. The UMI version says that UMI claims a copyright as well, though you also recognize mine. What exactly are the rights that I retain and what are the ones that you hold?
Two days later (which is actually the first business day after), their reply in its entirety:
You are the copyright owner of your dissertation not us
So that seems good, but I remain a bit suspicious, given their fairly clear claim, so I ask back:
Does that mean I can freely distribute the pdf you made of my dissertation?
This time the reply is:
You would need to call the copyright office to ask them
So I do. The answer from them is that I am free to do what I want with the pdf of the dissertation; that they merely store my work. Awesome.

Next up, where to put the diss for long-term availability.

28 September 2011

NEH ODH Project Directors Meeting

Spent the day yesterday with Tom Elliott and a slew of other digital humanists(?) at the NEH Office of Digital Humanities' day-long meeting for project directors. We were talking about our Advanced Institute on linked open data that's a joint project between Drew University and NYU's ISAW. Sebastian Heath is the third co-PI, notable by his absence.

Loads of fun, and nice to meet a bunch of people IRL whom I know from their work on-line, or Twitter, or some other on-line place.

Twitter hashtag #SUG2011.
Inside Higher Ed's story is here.

24 September 2011

Dude, where's my diss?

Part I, in which I search for my diss on-line

I've been reading my nice free e-copy of Hacking the Academy on my train ride to work lately. Among other things, it's gotten me to thinking about my own scholarship and the way in which it has been shared and sequestered. In this context the most prominent thing in my mind is my dissertation, a longish bit of writing that I spent several years in Ann Arbor working on. I have some vague memories of a title page with copyright language on it, but Hacking has prompted me to think harder about that...which led me to think a bit about the modern academic book.
Let me be clear up front: I don't have a book. I got tenure at an institution that—at the time—didn't require one, and my several articles and teaching and service were enough to get me the coveted title of "Associate Professor." Since my own tastes run more Callimachean than Homeric, that worked out well for me at the time.
But I do have some problems with the book. In a nutshell I think it's part of a mostly bankrupt system that has young scholars taking perfectly good pieces of academic writing, on which they spent years of hard work, and essentially saying these things were of such little value that they need to be worked over and turned into something else, something an academic press can sell (imagine!)...not that the young authors will see any direct gain from these sales.
There are too many examples of the warmed-over dissertation-cum-book for me to need to cite them. Any academic can surely name more than a few without much effort. Indeed there are entire series that are composed of such works (I'm looking at you, Oxford). Add to these the lightly revised articles bound together into a "new" book, the Festschrifts, the conference proceedings, and you've got a whole industry that revolves around books that aren't needed, at least not in that format. In my own research too, I've found precious few books that were influential on me. Instead I can easily point to well crafted articles that made their forceful points in fewer than 100 pages. I could add a bunch more reasons that depend on changes in technology, the history of books, and an improved functioning of academic publishing, but better to read that book I mentioned at the top.
So how does this fit with the topic at hand, my dissertation? Well, I've long been bothered by the way in which the many disses that are produced each year are more or less ignored, only to have the books that are based on them get all the attention, limited as even that may be in the end.
Were the disses that poor? I hope not, because that suggests that maybe we shouldn't have been given those Ph.D.s. Are the books that much better than the disses? Mostly, no, I'd say. So what's the deal? I think it's that we just like books. And by "we" I mean the whole industry of academe. (Again, Read the book!)
One roadblock to the further reading and use of dissertations, at least in the Humanities, is the difficulty in finding them. They don't get promoted by universities, unlike books by presses, and their authors are often looking to turn them into books, so they'd rather not see their own disses widely read. In fact it's an interesting profession that encourages its practitioners to ignore their first major piece of output.
But what about me? Since I didn't make mine into a book and I've just about given up on that movie deal, I'm happy to have more people read my own dissertation, so where is it? I figured I'd take a little time to try to find out. (And before I start, let me come more clean and say that I have written a few articles and given a few conference papers that are based on the work in my diss.)
I start by pulling out the diss (OK, the Word files) and find that title page. After convincing Word 2011 that it was OK to open such an old file, I see this little notice: "© John D. Muccigrosso All Rights Reserved 1998." Here's what it looks like on the page:
Very pretty, I think, and IIRC, all according the the then prevailing stylebook. To the sharing of said dissertation, that also seems good and right and fair: I own the copyright.
Next...what about that whole UMI thing? Academics will know UMI from experience: some vague entity that gets a copy of every dissertation made in the US. I'll try the obvious URL and http://UMI.com/ sends me right to the ProQuest Microfilm vault, where surely my acid-free papers from back in the last century sit protected for the upcoming millennia. But what if someone wanted to read those pages now? I click to find out more info on the UMI project and get taken to the somewhat pristine ProQuest Support Center, where there's a link to Dissertation Products. Not quite the phrase I'd use, but there you are. Clicking that opens up several new options, which are not really helping me out. Let me try the FAQ.
Ah, there it is: How do I order a dissertation online? Seems they want me to log in, but I'll just try going through my library's proxy...bingo, I'm in! Now a search for my whole name (you might think my last name is unique enough, but it turns out there's an unrelated, fairly prolific US historian with the same one, also in the wider NYC area). Yep, that'll do...and the diss is fairly high up in the list. (Unfortunately they're pumping the pdf through Flash, but most users probably have that beast installed, and there is an option to get the pdf directly.) The pdf itself is just a scan of the physical pages of my diss. No surprise, since what I sent them back in the last century was a copy printed on nice archival paper. Here's the only text that seems to be embedded in the pdf: Factional competition and monumental construction in mid-Republican Rome Muccigrosso, John D ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 1998; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection pg. n/a Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. That's the basic metadata (title, author, date, etc) along with ProQuest's info, and a copyright notice, all of which is presumably fairly nice for search engines, if they can ever get a look at the file behind the login.
So from start to finish that was a quick 10 minutes or so to come up with my dissertation. Not bad for the academic user who knows about me, UMI and has an institutional (or private) subscription to ProQuest's dissertation service, all of which leaves me with a few questions...which I'll start on in my next post.

13 September 2011


I've already gotten a post at the Language Lab over this, but I thought I'd try to keep track of my own de-ed-ed words here.

  1. Local restaurant flier: Butter roll (13/09/2011)
  2. Advising menu in Banner: Detail report (11/12/2011)

05 September 2011

MLK, jr., Colossus

The new statue of Martin Luther King, jr., being dedicated this weekend is properly called a colossus, basically a really big statue. The most famous early example of the type was the Colossus of Rhodes, which represented a Greek divinity and stood for a fairly brief period by the harbor of that Greek island until knocked down by an earthquake in the third century BC. Colosse de Rhodes (Barclay) Perhaps better known—at least to students in my archaeology class—was the colossus of Nero, which stood in his equally oversized villa complex inside the city of Rome, and survived the destruction of that complex to stand next to the appropriately immense Flavian Amphitheater, which later borrowed its name from the statue to become the Colosseum. We actually have a few colossus-type statues in the United States, which has always seemed odd to me, given our apparent dislike of statues in general, at least out of a religious context. It's not that we don't have any statues, but we tend to put up monuments of other types, especially for people or events of recent date. For example, 9-11 memorials seem to be almost studiously aniconic, often made, like the one just put up in my town of Maplewood, NJ, from a piece of steel beam recovered from the site, which was actually  obtained via a program designed to help create such memorials. The statues we do have tend to be either generic, like the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, or of very famous men, long gone, like Lincoln.
But back to those colossi, our most famous example is probably the giant bronze statue of the Roman goddess that stands in New York Harbor. We got it as a gift, of course, but still, it's ours now. Then there's the seated colossus of Lincoln at his memorial in DC, and the partial colossi of the four presidents carved into a mountain in South Dakota (which also gives an example of a fairly recent person being memorialized, as Teddy Roosevelt had been president less than 20 years before the project was started and had died less than 10 years before). There's another, much less well known mountain relief carving of three Confederate heroes in Georgia, begun shortly before the Mt. Rushmore project, by the same sculptor, but not finished until the early 70s. (The early 20th century seems to have been a good time for colossal sculpture in America.) So the MLK colossus is a bit unusual for us, since it's been a while since we've had one of these, but not without its precedents, and rather firmly in the tradition of honoring great men who have been dead for a while. (I'm going to leave aside the whole genre of colossal roadside monuments, which is nevertheless worth thinking about in this context. And who knew how many colossal religious statues there were world-wide? Holy Cow.)
SaddamStatueSo what about the MLK monument? Well, while we haven't been building a lot of serious colossi for recent leadership in the US, some other countries have, and they tend to be the kind of countries we invade or don't/didn't get along terribly well with. Most people probably remember the statue of Saddam Hussein that we helped pull down in Baghdad back in 2003, and more recently there's Gaddafi's colossal fist with American warplane. But there are several others, from our more traditional rivals.
For comparison, here's the MLK statue (which seems to be a bit redder in most photos I've seen):
MLK Stone of Hope cropped

He's emerging from the rock, a bit stern, with lots of sharp edges (check out the crease in his pants). Here's a better shot of his face (AP photo):
Now here's the statue of Mao by the same sculptor (Lei Yixin):
Same tailor? Then there's this big Lenin:
Lenin monument near Dubna

And the Immortal Statue of Kim Il Sung:
Dprk pyongyang mansu kim sculpture 05

In the end, it's hard for me to look at the MLK statue and not think of these other ones. Maybe state-sponsored architecture is always going to have some of that uncomfortable aura of official propaganda, but I'm sure another genre would not have evoked the same awkward (to my mind anyway) comparisons. I haven't been there yet, so it might be that this is all moderated in the context of the Mall, with Lincoln sitting not far away. (BTW, MLK is slightly taller than Lincoln would be if he stood up, so they're more or less made to the same scale.) I'll keep you posted.

(I'm of course not the first one to comment on this. Here's a NYTimes article from 2008 and you can easily search for some blog entries here and there.)

31 August 2011

Bussing a Move

My employer, Drew University, has just announced a lovely new shuttle service for students. The MAD (Madison Avenue Direct) is a joint venture with our academic neighbors Fairleigh Dickinson University and the College of St. Elizabeth, along with the Borough of Madison and TransOptions. It'll provide transportation between the three schools and Madison's Main Street businesses, including some that are a bit too far to walk comfortably, especially if you're at FDU or St. E's. On MapMyRun I make this out to be just short of a 10 mile loop.
So a few things:
  1. The route is scheduled for 46 minutes, which makes it an average of 13 mph. I'll trust that somebody has actually run it and that works. Problem is that every run of the shuttle is scheduled for that time. Do these people not know about the after-school Mom/Minivan rush? I suspect there will be some tweaking fairly soon.
  2. It will cost $1.50 after a two-week period in which it will be free. OK, not too bad, though I wonder if that will discourage anyone. OTOH...
  3. The shuttle seats 15, so it won't take too many people willing to pay the buck and a half to fill all the seats. OTOH...
  4. 15 is pretty small and if this gets popular at St. E's or FDU, there may not be room for Drew students, which will be fine for the shuttle, but not so fine for the Drewids.
  5. Last but not least, they expect that the service will eventually pay for itself. So some math. Let's assume that every trip gets 15 people on each leg, to and from downtown. There are 10 trips a day during the week, so 15 person/trip * 2 legs/trip * 10 trips/day * $1.50/person = $450/day. The driver makes, say, $10/hr for an 8-hr shift, or $80/day. Add in taxes, and let's call it $100. Gas? Let's give the shuttle 20 mpg for 1 gal/trip or 10 gal/day or $40. So that's $450 - $140 = $310/day. Saturday runs at half that, so a week is $310*5 + $155 = $1,705/wk or $6,820/month or about $45,000/academic yr. Insurance? IDK. Gotta be more than a car, but how much? I have no experience in this, but let's call it $300/month or $2,400/yr, for $42,600/yr. Seems pretty good.
    But what if I'm being too generous?
    Let's pay the driver more, $15/hr. And let's say the average ride only has 10 people. And gas mileage on the shuttle is 10 mpg. Total: $300 revenue - $150 driver's pay - $80 gas = $70/day, $385/wk, $1540/month, $18,480/yr. Make the insurance $500/month or $4,000/yr, and that leaves $14,480/yr.
And then I wonder, how often do you buy a new shuttle?

It all seems awfully close to me. I'll make two guesses:
  1. The outside funding available in the beginning will be key, and the operators will know by the time that ends whether the service is sustainable economically at the current price.
  2. Summer use of the van is what will push this deal over the top, if it does work. Or maybe even daily or weekend off-peak use. Regular student usage won't be enough and so you can't leave that expensive machinery sitting idle.
And a suggestion: with the Drew Pub closed this year, they're missing out on an opportunity to partner with local businesses on the weekend. $5 gets a student a bracelet to take as many rides as they want Friday and Saturday night.

16 August 2011

Going Pogue

NJTransit has the wonderful little electronic signs at some of its stations, for example, my work station of Madison. When there's some kind of announcement to be made, the voice comes over the crappy speakers and the same message is shown on the sign. All of which is very helpful and beats standing on the platform wondering where your train is when it doesn't show up.
So what do these signs show right after they finish giving you the alert? Nothing...or sometimes the name of the station. You know, the station you're standing at, the one you went to on your own.

They don't repeat the warning for new arrivals.
They don't tell you how long until the next train.
They don't give you news from NJT.
They just hang there.

Does NJTransit not know where their trains are and how fast they're moving at all times on their 600 miles of track? Can they not figure out how to share any meaningful information on these signs they surely paid a lot of money for and are clearly hooked up to some kind of remote system?

Meanwhile Google maps gives you live traffic reports over the whole country.

29 May 2011

Time and Excel

No, this isn't about how much time I spend with that particular spreadsheet app, though that's probably worth a post at some time. It's about a little bug I discovered on Friday in the way Excel compares times with one another. It's odd, hard to stumble upon, and not easily summarized. So while I try to figure out how to report such a thing (yes, really), I've attached a pdf of a demo spreadsheet that reproduces the problem.
For the curious among you.

16 April 2011

Schneier on Security: Sharp guy

Bruce Schneier' blog has long been one of my RSS feeds in Safari (I don't use any fancy RSS readers), and now I follow him on Twitter at @Bruce_Schneier. Yesterday he took a little trip down memory lane, as he quoted himself:

Anyone can invent a security system that he himself cannot break. I've said this so often that Cory Doctorow has named it "Schneier's Law": When someone hands you a security system and says, "I believe this is secure," the first thing you have to ask is, "Who the hell are you?" Show me what you've broken to demonstrate that your assertion of the system's security means something.
And that's the point I want to make. It's not that people believe they can create an unbreakable cipher; it's that people create a cipher that they themselves can't break, and then use that as evidence they've created an unbreakable cipher.

Seems to me like this observation could be made in a lot of contexts.
"I am not a <insert profession here>, but I'm smart and I think this, so this must be true."

13 April 2011

Paywall? What paywall?

Finally hit the NYTimes 20-article limit this evening. In place of the URL of the page I was visiting, up came another URL, suspiciously like the first, but with "?gwh=" and a string of 32 (who'd have guessed?) alphanumeric characters. Then the very pretty alert box comes up, blocking the page, and telling me that I've hit the magic number.
"Gee," I wonder, "what would happen if I just deleted that whole last bit from the question mark on?"
What happens is that the page I wanted just comes back, without the warning.
1. Why bother? Are people that bad at using their browsers that this would be effective?
2. Why pay $40M for this?

Oh, and if you're quick, you can hit command-. to cancel the page load before it hits the warning, but after the content you want to read as loaded.

10 April 2011

Stupid things about Excel 2011 for Mac

Got my Office upgrade a few weeks ago, which made me happy because I was hoping it would obviate most of my need to run Windows XP in VirtualBox. While it has done that, Excel in particular also has a number of annoying and stupid problems. Here's my list.

  1. No pivot charts.
  2. Limited pivot-table sorting. The Win version of 2007 lets you do lots of fairly complex sorting on various items in the pivot table. Edited to add: OK, looks like you can use the sort button in the ribbon for sorting in other columns. Fine, but different from Windows and why include that sort option in the pop-up then?
  3. Click on the pivot-table button to have Excel make a table for you and it puts it in a new sheet. Fine. But that sheet is inserted before the current one. Really.
  4. Same auto-create also leaves the floating info window for pivot tables open every time.
  5. Ugly, partially transparent, white on black floating windows in filtered and pivot tables.
  6. Missing "clear" button to get rid of all the filtering on a table at once. Instead it's in the Data menu.
  7. Incomprehensible menu customization process.
  8. Window re-sizing when windows are put in background.
  9. Window re-sizing upon copying a chart. The original size is restored, but still, what is going on?
  10. Still doesn't use the standard clipboard process, so you get asked whether you want to save large clipboard upon quitting, and items cut don't disappear right away, and the copied range will be forgotten if you don't use it right away. (Actually I don't know what set of actions will wipe out the clipboard, but it seems like most of them.)
  11. Calibri? Really? (OK, this is in Windows too.)
  12. Modal dialog boxes in Find/Replace that close with a button that says "Close" instead of a red close button or a cancel button. 
  13. No default key combo for Replace.
  14. Ugly pastel built-in chart types. (Again, Windows too.) Can they not hire someone with some taste over there in Redmond?
  15. The red button stoplight button does not always get the black dot at its center when you've changed the document. [Added 15 April 11]
  16. Some files are changed just by opening them and Excel will ask if you want to save them when you try to close. [Added 15 April 11]

22 March 2011

Just keeping track

But let me emphasize that we anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not a matter of weeks. And so I would expect that over the next several days we'll have more information, and the Pentagon will be fully briefing the American people, as well as the press on that issue.
The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal.

The Obama administration has sent teams of CIA operatives into Libya in a rush to gather intelligence on the identity, goals and progress of rebel forces opposed to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, according to U.S. officials.
 President Obama has authorized the use of armed Predator drones to attack Libya government forces fighting the rebellion against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi
Tomorrow marks 60 days of US non-war in Libya, which would mark the end of the War Powers Act authorization if, you know, it existed.

20 March 2011

The NYTimes up-coming paywall

I don't quite get their plan on this (which makes me think it's about as well thought out as their other ventures and attitudes on the intertubes).

First, at no cost everybody gets to read 20 articles a month, and also to browse the "home page, section fronts, blog fronts and classifieds," and read the Top News section on the Apps. I'm going to guess that this is going to be enough for a lot of people: "What are the headlines today? Ooh, let me read about this breaking story. OK, I'm done now." BTW, since section fronts sometimes include Top News stories, I assume links to these will be free wherever you click on them. For example, right now the top three stories on the World section front are the top three stories on the iPad Top News section. (Truth be told, I assume they'll goof this up and the links won't always be free if you don't click on them in the right place.)

Second they're charging extra to have access for both an iPhone and an iPad app. Huh?

Third, if you come to one of their articles via a search engine, blog or other social media link, that article will count against your 20 if you haven't hit it yet, but you will also still be able to read it if you have already hit 20. Search hits will have a 5-a-day limit. How is this not a giant hole in their plans? The truly devious could simply enter the title they want to read into their browser's search bar, and then click on the subsequent link in the search engine. A little more work, but not much. Or they could put the link into their own tweets or FaceBook or blog.

And I assume they're keeping track of this via cookies, which is another hole: a decent cookie manager can let a user easily switch identities and circumvent the monthly limit with ease.

The NYTimes should know better than anyone how its users reach their articles, so maybe they've got this sussed out. I just can't help thinking that they don't.

On a side note, I also don't get why their bloggers keep their blogs at NYTimes.com. Krugman and Silver and the others could likely do what Frank Rich is doing and not lose much readership. Since they don't seem to get paid anyway, what does it matter to them? If their readership does drop after the paywall goes up, will they stay?

(Gruber's had a few posts on this. Here's one.)

Edited to add (21 March): That didn't take long: Twitter feed of all NYT articles is now up and running.

14 March 2011

Reason #4306 why I am a Mac user

I run Windows XP in VirtualBox on my MacBook. Love it. Almost everything works great. I can save the state of my Windows machine. I can revert to an older saved state. I can run those rare, but enticing, Windows-only apps like ArcGIS, or the DAVID Laserscanner, or the CVA Access database (yuck). But the big reason is that I've needed the latest version of Excel for compatibility with all the nice stuff pivot tables can do on it. (Shout out to pivot-tabler extraordinaire CVW!)

So here's the thing: open a file in Excel, make some changes, and then try to close without having saved it. Excel will throw up a dialog box for you to save that file. Cancel the save and it will then ask you whether you want to save this file which you've made changes in.

Uh...isn't that backwards? Why don't you ask me first and save a step? You know, like my Mac has done for the past 27 years.

Yes, I know this is Excel and not XP, but it's still Microsoft, so same difference.

07 March 2011

Robots and configs and makes, oh my!

Been spending a bunch of time this weekend trying to get another kinect hack running on my MacBook. It requires the other drivers for the kinect, OpenNI. Nifty, but they have some issues with OS X, so I can run them on their own (see that image there), but not with the robot OS (ros) I've been working with and with which a number of these kinect hacks work. Bottom line right now is that I can't make nite inside ros and my weak computer skills are not giving me hope that I won't have to wait until somebody else works this out.

Still, having a ball playing with the software and watching this whole arena develop in front of my internetworked eyes.

20 February 2011

Kinect as 3D scanner

Decided that I had mucked around enough in the ros files and that I would re-install the whole darn thing...which seemed a better idea when I started it than when it did an hour later. Note to self: next time write down all the extra tweaks you had to do to make the software install!
In the end, things actually seem better, and I didn't have to re-apply a number of the fixes I found just one or two days ago. Loads of fun to be playing around with code that's being updated daily.
(For the record though: on the first time around, I had applied this fix for using python 2.6 instead of 2.5 with wxwidgets. Also here's a patch to the kdl makefile.)

19 February 2011


Another nifty looking use of the Kinect involves the Robot OS (ROS) project, which sponsored a contest for a Kinect-based game. The winners were from Mexico and describe their games like this:
Fun and Interactive game based on the old famous game lemmings
It took me a little doing to get all the various dependencies working, including modifying some dylibs to get opencv2 working right, and modifying common to get nodelet running. (I apparently have an older version of common, but a single edit to a config file fixed the problem until I do the upgrade.)
It now runs for a little bit and then freezes. Not sure why or what it's doing when frozen, but I'll post a screen shot later today.
Next up: using the Kinect as a 3D scanner with another contest winner, RGBD-6D-SLAM.

13 February 2011


One of the reasons my son got the Kinect option with his XBox this Christmas was so that I could play with it too. That thing is getting a huge amount of attention from all sorts of computer-science people, and most of what they're doing with it is incredibly interesting. Try searching on YouTube for "kinect" for a start. For my part I've been reading around about how to install the open-source software on my Mac, in hopes of being able to use some of it for 3D work (OK, or for cool games).
Step 1 in actually hooking up the Kinect to my laptop was getting a USB cable. The older XBoxes had a standard USB port, but the newer ones don't. Instead they have a proprietary port that carries both power and the data to the Kinect (No surprise from MicroSoft), but since they want to sell Kinects to all those people with older XBoxes, they had to sell a kit to do that and that kit has a USB connector on it. Mine arrived Thursday and I finally got a chance to hook it up today. Since I haven't gotten the ROS-based software up and running yet, I used Oliver Kreylos' driver and got this:

I spent the better part of the evening trying to get the ROS stuff to work, so I didn't do any calibration yet with Oliver's software, but I'll try to do some of that tomorrow before I go sell 50/50 tickets or something at the kid's basketball game.

30 January 2011


I finally started using Twitter last month, and I've been blogging my archaeological excavation in Umbria for a few years now, but then there are all those other things in my life that I feel the urge to write about (which will surprise no one who knows me).

So this is the blog for that stuff.

I'll see about getting my Twitter feed on here too, for complete social-media redundancy.