Archive for December 2007

Snow   5 comments

Snow in New Mexico

The Kids Enjoyed.

Posted December 27, 2007 by padraic2112 in noise, parenting

On Vacation   2 comments

In case you actually visit regularly and wonder where my posts have gone.

We’re in New Mexico, visiting the in-laws.  Having a great time.  The luminarias are always fun to see.  Jack was very enthusiastic about presents this year, Hannah was a little overwhelmed and basically quit when she had three presents left.  Heading off for The Snow tomorrow, which ought to be as much fun for the adults as the kiddies.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, or just best wishes to the agnostics and atheists.  May you and yours be well.

Posted December 25, 2007 by padraic2112 in newsflash, noise

Isn’t this Old News?   Leave a comment

I remember peeking at the traffic jam problem when I was an undergraduate in college.  It’s pretty basic queuing theory.

Researchers at the University of Exeter have published a paper with a new model explaining traffic jams.  From an article in Physorg:

Drivers and policy-makers have not previously known why jams like this occur, though many have put it down to the sheer volume of traffic. While this clearly plays a part in this new theory, the main issue is around the smoothness of traffic flow.

Is this actually news?  I thought this had been done already.  Admittedly, I’ve just been dabbling in math since I graduated, but I’ve explained this exact solution to people in Los Angeles for years when they complained about traffic jams with no apparent cause.  This might be a case of faulty memory, maybe I was basing my understanding on a theoretical model that was only just now simulated?  Or maybe this is bad reporting?  Or there’s some subtle nuance in this paper that I’d have to actually read to get as new stuff.  New models always crop up in queuing theory (a brief glance at the wikipedia article does a good job of explaining why if you’re not a math geek), there must be something new about this particular model.

One of my problems with academia is that I just can’t keep up with everything that is interesting.  There’s just too much learnin’ goin’ on.

Posted December 20, 2007 by padraic2112 in math, news

Personal Surveillance   1 comment

Occasionally I’ve heard (or muttered myself), “If only I had a tape recording running during that conversation.”  Sometimes it is due to a complaint with customer service, sometimes it is due to a conversation someone had with their boss, or their exit interview, or any one of a number of other conditions.  I was asked recently, “Hey, is it actually okay for me to record a phone conversation with someone else?”

Turns out this is a pretty complicated question.  Making audio recordings of conversations with other people, whether in person or on the phone, is legally restricted in most states.  You can see guidelines at this web site from the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.  Since I live in California, I’ll quote their reference on my home state here:

Cal. Penal Code §§ 631, 632: It is a crime in California to intercept or eavesdrop upon any confidential communication, including a telephone call or wire communication, without the consent of all parties.

It is also a crime to disclose information obtained from such an interception. A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisonment for no more than one year. Subsequent offenses carry a maximum fine of $10,000 and jail sentence of up to one year.

Eavesdropping upon or recording a conversation, whether by telephone (including cordless or cellular telephone) or in person, that a person would reasonably expect to be confined to the parties present, carries the same penalty as intercepting telephone or wire communications.

Conversations occurring at any public gathering that one should expect to be overheard, including any legislative, judicial or executive proceeding open to the public, are not covered by the law.

An appellate court has ruled that using a hidden video camera violates the statute. California v. Gibbons, 215 Cal. App. 3d 1204 (1989). However, a television network that used a hidden camera to videotape a conversation that took place at a business lunch meeting on a crowded outdoor patio of a public restaurant that did not include “secret” information did not violate the Penal Code’s prohibition against eavesdropping because it was not a “confidential communication.” Wilkins v. NBC, Inc., 71 Cal. App. 4th 1066 (1999).

Anyone injured by a violation of the wiretapping laws can recover civil damages of $5,000 or three times actual damages, whichever is greater. Cal. Penal Code § 637.2(a). A civil action for invasion of privacy also may be brought against the person who committed the violation. Cal. Penal Code § 637.2.

The full Penal Code citation is here.  There are a number of exceptions for various reasons (law enforcement personnel, people with restraining orders, etc.)

By my reading (usual disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer), it seems perfectly reasonable for someone to record a conversation if they’ve already been notified the conversation may be recorded, since the other party has no reasonable expectation of privacy.  So if you’re calling tech support, or a customer complaint line, and before you get a representative you hear those all-so-common words, “This conversation may be recorded for quality control purposes”, you can start recording yourself, if you want your own record of the conversation (I do this if I’m in a dispute).  If not, however, you need to inform the party at the other end of the line that you’re recording.  Also, if you’re not interested in having a recording, you are perfectly within your rights to refuse your consent; just because they inform you that they might record a conversation doesn’t give them the right to record it unless you consent.

Oh, and if you want to tape an in-person conversation, have it in a public place.  So if you think you’re about to be fired without cause, it’s better to go to lunch with your boss than it is to join them for a meeting in their office.  Jerry Maguire should have known that, it would have given him some ammunition.

Posted December 18, 2007 by padraic2112 in security

Quote of the Day   Leave a comment

“Avoid black holes when you can” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

What to do when your neighboring galaxy decides to blast yours with a 24,000 light-year long death beam of radiation: not much.  This is officially on my list of “Disaster Scenarios unsupported by our Disaster Recovery Plan”.

Posted December 17, 2007 by padraic2112 in news, noise

Google Calendar and Gmail are Quietly Sneaking Up on Exchange   4 comments

I work for a university, and more and more of the incoming kids are arriving with Gmail accounts. They now generally forward their university mail straight to Gmail, and read all of their mail there.

Aside from the one glaring fact that Gmail is still officially beta, and there is no service guarantee so if all of your mail up and disappears into the ether you’re basically out of luck, this isn’t a terribly bad idea. For one thing, Google’s anti-spam filtering appears to be right up there with the best in the business. Having access to Google’s giant honking search database and crawler technology must be an advantage here. Gmail’s web interface is going to rock the pants off of any home-grown webmail service, performance-wise, and if you’ve ever used SquirrelMail you’ll know how big of a plus that is.

There are of course major privacy considerations here (Bruce and Marcus were talking about just this sort of “handing over your data” problem recently), and again as a technical professional I can’t really recommend something that comes with no guarantee. On the other hand, you can now have Thunderbird have the same sort of access to your Google calendar that Outlook has to Exchange.

Step 1: Install Thunderbird

Step 2: Install Lighting as a Thunderbird Add-On, or just use Sunbird

Step 3: Install Provider for Google Calendar as a Thunderbird Add-On

Step 4: Hook up your Google Calendar in Provider. There are step-by-step screen-shot directions blogged here.

Step 5: If you’re hooked on your Palm, you can get a Palm plugin for Google Calendar here or here.

The nice thing about this is that when you sync your Google Calendar to Lightning/Sunbird, you have a local copy of your calendar, so if worst comes to worse and Google accidentally deletes your calendar, you still have a copy*. And since you can share your Google Calendar, you get a bunch of the functionality of Exchange, all with freely available software. More importantly, if you want to have a public calendar shared among a group of people, they can all get in on the ride without having to pay for the E ticket.

Considering the cost of setting up and maintaining Exchange (and the platform lock-in), this seems pretty much like a no-brainer unless you’re already in the Exchange game, or maintaining fairly private info.

And even if you are… all of those incoming kiddies with their Gmail accounts and their iPhones and their buy-in to Google Apps… as time passes, the Google Calendar network is going to include a substantial chunk of the young nerds.

As every networking nut knows, the value of your network goes up as the number of nodes increases…

* looks like not, actually, the calendar app doesn’t maintain a local cache.

Posted December 16, 2007 by padraic2112 in social, software, tech, web sites

The Body is a Temple   2 comments

Mine is occasionally desecrated. I drink too much coffee, I don’t exercise enough. We eat marginally well at my house; Kitty is great at keeping vegetables a routine part of the dinner plate, and I’ve fallen into the habit myself… but I had bacon for breakfast this morning, and that’s not very rare.

Really, I weigh 20 lbs more than my fighting weight, and in all honesty I don’t see that getting substantially better for a little while yet. I’m 6’1″, and 205 on good days, which puts my BMI at 27. This puts me over the official “overweight” line but my cholesterol is good, my family heart history is great, and I quit smoking a while back, so (knock wood) I can stay in this low orbit until I finish grad school and the kids get old enough to function a little more independently, at which point taking 30 minutes or an hour out for a workout won’t be a big deal.

Tangent – this table seems crazy, though -> in order to be considered underweight, I’d have to come in at *under* 144 lbs. Now, when I was 170 my waist was a 28. If I dropped to 144 at my height I’d look like a skeleton.

As usual, I’m digressing – the reason why I brought this up is that my buddy Marc, who has been a friend of mine since 4th grade, is training for an Iron Man. Of course, being Marc, he can’t just train for a freaking Iron Man, he has to do it for charity. Geeze, some guys. As if swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running a full marathon (26.2 miles) isn’t enough.  How many calories do you burn in an Iron Man, anyway?  I’m guessing somewhere about 5-6,000?

I’ll go so far as to link to his donation site. Now, where did I leave my donut…?

Posted December 14, 2007 by padraic2112 in noise